PARLIAMENTARIANS from around the world on Monday sent an open letter to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen demanding that his government “immediately and unconditionally release” detained opposition leader Kem Sokha.
Signed by more than 150 members of parliament from 23 countries including the United States, Malaysia, Canada, Indonesia, South Africa, Germany and the UK, the letter states that MPs are “extremely concerned” over treason charges laid against Kem Sokha after he was arrested and detained three months ago.
The leader of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) – which was disbanded by the country’s Supreme Court last month at the request of Hun Sen’s government – was arrested in the middle of the night at his home on charges of conspiring with foreign actors to hurt Cambodia.
The letter said that the CNRP’s dissolution coupled with Kem Sokha’s ongoing detention meant it was “impossible for next year’s elections to be considered free and fair.”
It called for Cambodian authorities to drop charges against Kem Sokha and immediately release him, to reverse the decision to dissolve the CNRP, and to repeal all recent amendments to the Law on Political Parties and electoral laws.
The disbanding of the CNRP signals the culmination of what many see as a broad campaign against political opposition, media and civil society by Hun Sen’s government ahead of elections in 2018. The Supreme Court’s ruling also bars some 118 CNRP members from participating in politics for five years.
“Twenty-six years ago, the international community came together for the Paris Peace Conference and pledged to support Cambodia’s goal of building a genuine, multi-party democracy in the aftermath of years of war and turmoil,” read the letter.
“We – and the people we represent – are committed to helping your country achieve these aims. But this can only happen if basic democratic norms and principles are restored.”
Last week, Hun Sen threatened to shutter the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, an NGO founded by Kem Sohka in 2002. He called upon the Ministry of Interior to investigate the group for collaborating with foreigners and for links to an alleged CNRP “revolution”.
The government on Saturday, however, said that the centre would be allowed to continue operating. Nevertheless, numerous institutions have already faced the wrath of the government including the US-funded National Democratic Institute, the Cambodia Daily newspaper and other local media organisations.
The letter from MPs urged Hun Sen’s government to “recommit to working with the international community to ensure that next year’s national elections are genuine, participatory, and inclusive.”
It follows calls from prominent US Senator Ted Cruz in October to release Kem Sokha, threatening that a failure to do so would endanger the future of US-Cambodian relations.