A Cambodian government spokesman on Wednesday slammed a rights group’s report condemning ruling party moves aimed at shutting down the country’s political opposition, saying the ASEAN-linked group’s views do not reflect those of the larger regional body.
The report “Death Knell for Democracy” released on March 20 by the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) “reflects only the dark concept of a few individuals who have not let facts get in the way of making their wild allegations,” a spokesman for Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation said.
“APHR is only a small group of several current and former parliamentarians from ASEAN-member countries and has not been recognized as an entity associated with ASEAN,” the spokesman said in a statement released on March 22.
Cambodia’s ruling party under Prime Minister Hun Sen has created a “climate of fear” as the government widens a crackdown on the opposition and activists ahead of commune elections in June, APHR—a group of former and serving Southeast Asian lawmakers—said in their report on Monday.
Democracy in Cambodia is being “systematically dismantled,” APHR said, calling recently passed amendments to the country’s law on political parties the “culmination of an ongoing effort to undermine the capacity of the political opposition.”
“Over the course of the past two years, an assault on free expression, dissent, and opposition by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has targeted nearly all segments of Cambodian political life,” the report said.
“This has significantly impacted the opposition’s ability to function—both within Parliament and outside it—and has created a climate of fear, which casts a dark shadow over all of Cambodian society.”
Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) vice president and APHR member Mu Suchoa on Tuesday described the CPP’s moves as aimed at blocking the ability of Cambodia’s political opposition to campaign effectively in nationwide commune elections in June.
“This has been their strategy,” Suchoa said, quoted in a March 21 report in the Phnom Penh Post.
“Their goal has always been to weaken the opposition and silence it at all costs,” she said.
CNRP officials have warned that the CPP seeks to prevent its candidates from standing in the upcoming elections through a variety of different measures, including the passage of amendments to the political party law approved by the National Assembly on Feb. 20, despite an opposition boycott of parliament in protest.
The new law bars anyone convicted of a crime from holding the top offices in a political party and forced former CNRP president Sam Rainsy to resign last month to preserve the party. Other amendments put the party at risk of being dissolved for fanning “disunity,” which observers say is deliberately vague.
Since a “culture of dialogue” broke down with the CNRP in mid-2015, the CPP has launched a series of politically motivated cases, eroded parliamentary immunity protections, and orchestrated violence against opposition politicians, according to APHR’s report.
“The CPP’s tactics have increasingly threatened not only the safety of opposition parliamentarians, but the credibility and effectiveness of democratic institutions themselves, including the capacity of the Parliament to serve its legislative, representative, and oversight roles,” the report said.
The report noted that at least 17 opposition parliamentarians, out of 66 in the National Assembly and Senate combined, have been direct victims of harassment and attacks—judicial or physical—while others face what it called “looming threats in an unpredictable and hostile political climate.”
Reported by Nareth Muong for RFA’s Khmer Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.