‘Do not kill Cambodia’: Opposition leader Kem Sokha pens letter from behind bars
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‘Do not kill Cambodia’: Opposition leader Kem Sokha pens letter from behind bars

PRESIDENT of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Kem Sokha has released an open letter to the Cambodian public, international community and the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen regarding his detention.

Arrested a month ago on charges of treason, Kem Sokha pleaded with the Cambodian government not to dismantle the country’s democracy in an “unofficial translation” tweeted by his daughter Samathida Kem on Wednesday. “Do not kill Cambodia’s economy by killing its democracy,” he said.

The CNRP leader is facing between 15 and 30 years in jail over allegations he is engaged in a “secret plot” by foreigners to launch a “colour revolution”. In the letter he denied the charges, stating that it was “deceitful distortion” on the part of the government.

SEE ALSO: 5 signs of Cambodia’s ‘descent into outright dictatorship’

“If an opposition party does not intend to change the ruling party, then it isn’t called an opposition party,” wrote Kem Sokha, denying that his actions had been unlawful.

Addressing the government, he wrote: “I am not your enemy, but I am a competitor who has a duty to contribute to improving our nation through constructive criticism and competition to gain popular support from the people.”

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A vendor prepares a stack of the final issue of The Cambodia Daily newspaper at her store for sale along a street in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Sept 4, 2017. Source: Reuters/Samrang Pring

Ahead of 2018 elections, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is cracking down on its political opponents, civil society and media organisations in a bid to retain power. In June local elections, the CNRP won around 46 of the popular vote, compared to the CPP’s 51 percent.

It subsequently shuttered the local office of US-based National Democratic Institute and forced the Cambodia Daily newspaper to close through issuing a US$6.3 million tax bill. Having ruled the country for three decades, Hun Sen has warned of civil war if the CPP lose an election.

“Cambodia is where it is today because of liberal democracy and pluralism,” said Kem Sokha in his letter.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that the deputy leader of the CNRP Mu Sochua fled Cambodia over fears for her safety. “Democracy in Cambodia is very rapidly eroding to a point where no other opposing forces are left to fight dictatorship,” she said.

The government has threatened that the CNRP could be banned from running if it does not appoint a replacement within 90 days.

“May Cambodians bear in mind that I will always be with you,” wrote Kem Sokha. “Though my body is imprisoned, nobody can detain my ideal[s]. My will is always with you. Do not be terrified!”

His other daughter Kem Monovithya has been in meetings with US and EU leaders to garner their support in calling for his release and ensuring free and fair elections in 2018.

SEE ALSO: US suspension on visas for senior officials puts Cambodia in retaliation mode

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Hun Sen looks at the ballot box after casting his vote during local elections in Kandal province, Cambodia, on June 4, 2017. Source: Reuters/Samrang Pring

“I am very optimistic about those meetings. The governments of European countries have made it clear that an election that lacks participation by the main opposition party will not be legitimate or recognised,” she told Radio Free Asia on Monday.

Kem Sokha’s letter also addressed the international community, urging “real actions to save Cambodia in a timely manner.”

“Otherwise, the help of the international community since the 1991 Paris Peace Accords on Cambodia, especially the 2018 elections, will be ‘useless and unacceptable’,” he said.

Western governments have voiced their opposition to Kem Sokha’s arrest, but China has voiced its support for Hun Sen’s regime.