Cambodia: Opposition leader arrested, newspaper shut by govt
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Cambodia: Opposition leader arrested, newspaper shut by govt

THE LEADER of Cambodia’s leading opposition party was arrested for “treason” on Sunday amid a crackdown against the country’s political opposition, the news media and civil society organisations ahead of 2018 national elections.

Kem Sokha, leader of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), is accused of being involved in a “secret plot” by foreigners to “harm” the country.

His daughter, Monovithya Kem, tweeted just after midnight on Sunday that Kem Sokha and his bodyguards had been “taken away by 100-200 police” after they raided his Phnom Penh home without a warrant.

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“The Royal Government of Cambodia informs that according to a video clip broadcast on CBN (Cambodian Broadcasting Network) in Australia and other evidence collected, it clearly shows secret plans of a conspiracy between Kem Sokha, others and foreigners to harm the Kingdom of Cambodia,” said a report from government-run media outlet Fresh News.

The United States embassy in Phnom Penh expressed its “grave concern” over Kem Sokha’s arrest in a statement on Sunday, saying that the move “appear[ed] to be politically motivated.”

“This government move follows a number of troubling recent steps, including the imposition of unprecedented restrictions on independent media and civil society.”

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is seen by many to be doing everything to cling on to power ahead of national elections slated for 2018. In June’s local commune elections, the CNRP won some 46 percent of the vote to the government’s 51 percent.

“These measures undercut Cambodia’s progress in recent decades and raise serious questions about the government’s ability to organise credible national elections in 2018 which produce an outcome that enjoys democratic legitimacy,” said the US embassy.

John Sifton of Human Rights Watch tweeted that his organisation was “calling on governments worldwide to summon Cambodia’s ambassadors for a dress down.”

Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) chairman Charles Santiago said in a press release that “with national elections on the horizon, it is clear that this is nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to crush the opposition before the campaign even starts.”

“Kem Sokha’s arrest is a blatant violation of parliamentary immunity protections under the Cambodian constitution and an affront to the rule of law.”

Hun Sen has held power for three decades – making him one of the longest-serving world leaders on the planet. In May, he warned of “civil war” if the CPP did not continue to “win elections, every election.”

Last month, the local office of the US-based National Democratic Institute was shuttered by Cambodia and its foreign employees were ordered to leave the country within seven days.

Cambodia Daily no more

Monday marks the last day of publication for the Cambodia Daily after the newspaper was targeted by the government for allegedly not paying tax.

At the beginning of August, Cambodian authorities hit the publishers with US$6.3 million tax bill claiming that they had not paid tax since 2007. PM Hun Sen recently called the newspaper a “chief thief” during a tirade against foreign NGOs and media.

“The power to tax is the power to destroy,” said a statement from the Cambodia Daily on Sunday. “After 24 years and 15 days, the Cambodian government has destroyed The Cambodia Daily, a special and singular part of Cambodia’s free press.”

Many readers and current and former journalists of the Cambodia Daily took to Twitter to express their sadness at the closure of the newspaper.

“On Monday, the Daily’s service to the Cambodian people will end,” said the Cambodia Daily’s farewell statement.

“We want to thank our advertisers and subscribers who supported freedom of the press for so long, and our staff, who have fought fiercely and courageously to report All the News Without Fear or Favor.”

Some 15 radio stations that air programmes produced by the CNRP, Voice of America and Radio Free Asia were also ordered in August by Cambodian authorities to stop broadcasting.