Cambodian Opposition Leader Urges Action to ‘Save Democracy’

A Cambodian opposition lawmaker says she fled the country to avoid arrest. She accuses the government of continuing a campaign of repression against her party’s leadership.

Mu Sochua told Reuters news agency she decided to leave Tuesday after learning she might be arrested. It is not clear where she has gone.

Monday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen warned of strong action against any politicians linked to a treason case against opposition leader Kem Sokha.

Sokha leads the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). He was charged with treason and detained. Cambodian officials accuse Sokha of planning to overthrow the government.

CNRP officials accuse Hun Sen of ordering the arrest of its leaders and taking steps to prevent the party from operating. Hun Sen is a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP). The 65-year-old ruler has led the country for 32 years. A general election is planned for next July.

The CNRP says almost half of its opposition party lawmakers have either left Cambodia or are in jail. A recent legislative amendment permits the government to end political parties for national security reasons.

Mu Sochua wrote Wednesday in a note to The Associated Press, “The situation is very serious and has direct impact on 2018 elections.”

She continued, “I no longer feel safe inside the country. My voice needs to be heard inside and outside.”

She told Reuters she thinks the international community needs to act to “save democracy” in Cambodia. She said, “The time for statements has passed. It’s time for sanctions, targeted sanctions. Also suspension of technical aid to the government of Cambodia.”

The lawmaker suggested sanctions could include visa restrictions on top Cambodian officials. But she added that any restrictions should not target the exports of clothing. Those exports – most of which are sent to the U.S. and European Union – provide work for hundreds of thousands of Cambodian workers.

In answer, a government spokesman said there was no reason for any country to place sanctions on Cambodia.

“This is a sovereign state and it will protect its sovereignty,” the spokesman said. He said he could not comment on possible future arrests because they are handled by the judiciary.

Human rights groups say Hun Sen’s government uses its control over the judicial system to frighten its political opponents and activists. The U.S. State Department reported in 2016 of major human rights problems in Cambodia.

Phil Robertson is deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. He commented on the situation in a statement released Wednesday. He said if CNRP leaders are forced out of Cambodia before next year’s election, it would, in his words, “effectively mean the death of Cambodian democracy.”

He said no one doubts that Hun Sen can order immediate violence by the military and police. In his words, Hun Sen, “controls all the levers in Cambodia’s kangaroo courts. The 2018 election is going to be neither free nor fair under these circumstances.”

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from VOA News, the Associated Press, Reuters and Radio Free Asia. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

impactn. the effect a person, event or situation has on someone or something

sanction – n. action taken to make a country obey a rule or law

sovereign – adj. having independent power to govern

judiciary – n. all the judges in a country

doubt – v. to be unsure about something

lever – n. device used to control something

kangaroo courts – n. a court that uses unfair methods or is not a proper court of law

circumstances – n. facts or events that make a situation the way it is