The sham trial of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha is underway in Phnom Penh. How the international community responds would send a powerful signal to Cambodian Prime Minster Hun Sen, the world’s longest-serving, about his ability to continue to trample on the nation’s democracy and its people’s human rights.
After Kem Sokha and I founded the CNRP, Cambodia’s first united democratic opposition party, in 2012, we quickly gained strong public support.
In both the 2013 general election and the 2017 communal elections, the CNRP won nearly half the vote, despite systematic structural bias in favor of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
Terrified by the obvious threat the CNRP posed to his rule, Hun Sen sought a pretext to crush us. So, in 2017, when I was still CNRP leader, he proposed an amendment that would bar “convicted criminals” from leading a political party — a clear bid to use the string of politically motivated convictions on my record to discredit the CNRP.
To prevent him from succeeding, I resigned as CNRP leader in February 2017, leaving Kem Sokha, with his clean record, in charge.
That did not stop Hun Sen.
Seven months after my resignation, his government simply fabricated treason charges against Kem Sokha. Within two months, the CNRP was dissolved by a judiciary loyal to Hun Sen. (In 2018 and last year, Cambodia ranked second to last in the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index.)
The fact that a two-year investigation into Kem Sokha has not produced a shred of evidence against him is, apparently, irrelevant, but Hun Sen knows that a party is more than its official status — it is its people. So instead of, say, addressing the abject poverty in which a huge share of Cambodians live, he has channeled his energy and the government’s resources toward keeping Kem Sokha and me apart, and pressuring CNRP supporters to defect.
Today, Kem Sokha is forbidden from leaving the country, and I am barred from entering it.
When I last tried to do so in November last year, Hun Sen issued a directive prohibiting commercial airlines that serve Cambodia from allowing me to board and threatening “serious consequences” for anyone that defied the ban. Moreover, he convinced Thailand to prevent me from flying to Bangkok, to stop me from crossing into Cambodia by land.
Hun Sen’s desperation to keep me out of Cambodia betrays the weakness of his position. I have challenged him many times to try me instead of Kem Sokha, but he fears the national and international response to my arrest and trial, as much as he fears the support I would receive if he allowed me to move freely in Cambodia.
More than 90 percent of the 5,007 CNRP local councilors elected in 2017 relinquished their positions rather than defect to the CPP. Likewise, more than 90 percent of the 118 leading CNRP figures whom Hun Sen’s regime banned from politics have refused to trade their political allegiance for the reinstatement of their political rights.
Ordinary CNRP supporters — who comprise nearly half of Cambodia’s population — also remain loyal, despite the threat of violent harassment, arrest or forced exile.
In the 2018 national election, they refused to endorse any of the CPP-approved “opposition” parties. They were not about to let the CPP pretend that the national assembly — filled exclusively with CPP members — was in any way fair or representative.
Like that bogus election, Kem Sokha’s sham trial is to go ahead. He is likely to be found guilty and then be granted a royal pardon by King Norodom Sihamoni, at Hun Sen’s request.
The pardon is critical to avoid any appeal or, worse, acquittal — an outcome that would expose the government’s deceit and force it to reinstate the CNRP. Releasing a pardoned Kem Sokha, by contrast, would support the narrative that Hun Sen’s government was right about him and the CNRP.
There can be no democracy without a credible opposition and in today’s Cambodia there can be no credible opposition without the CNRP. Releasing Kem Sokha with a record marred by politically motivated lies that provide a pretext for maintaining the ban on the CNRP would not only fail to advance democracy; it would accelerate Cambodia’s descent into authoritarianism.
The world’s democracies must not fall for Hun Sen’s charade.
The EU is considering withdrawal of tariff-free access for Cambodian exports. Others, too, must make it clear that Cambodia would face consequences unless the authorities promptly drop all charges against Kem Sokha, reinstitute the CNRP under his leadership, and hold free and fair elections.
Democracy demands nothing less.
Sam Rainsy is acting president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
Copyright: Project Syndicate
During the US-India Strategic Partnership Forum’s third leadership summit on Aug. 31, US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun said that the US wants to partner with the other members of the Quadrilaterial Security Dialogue — Australia, India and Japan — to establish an organization similar to NATO, to “respond to ... any potential challenge from China.” He said that the US’ purpose is to work with these nations and other countries in the Indo-Pacific region to “create a critical mass around the shared values and interest of those parties,” and possibly attract more countries to establish an alliance comparable to
On August 24, 2020, the US Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, made an important statement: “The Pentagon is Prepared for China.” Going forward, how might the Department of Defense team up with Taiwan to make itself even more prepared? No American wants to deter the next war by a paper-thin margin, and no one appreciates the value of strategic overmatch more than the war planners at the Pentagon. When the stakes are this high, you can bet they want to be super ready. In recent months, we have witnessed a veritable flood of high-level statements from US government leaders on
China has long sought shortcuts to developing semiconductor technologies and local supply chains by poaching engineers and experts from Taiwan and other nations. It is also suspected of stealing trade secrets from Taiwanese and US firms to fulfill its ambition of becoming a major player in the global semiconductor industry in the next decade. However, it takes more than just money and talent to build a semiconductor supply chain like the one which Taiwan and the US started to cultivate more than 30 years ago. Amid rising trade and technology tensions between the world’s two biggest economies, Beijing has become
With a new White House document in May — the “Strategic Approach to the People’s Republic of China” — the administration of US President Donald Trump has firmly set its hyper-competitive line to tackle geoeconomic and geostrategic rivalry, followed by several reinforcing speeches by Trump and other Cabinet-level officials. By identifying China as a near-equal rival, the strategy resonates well with the bipartisan consensus on China in today’s severely divided US. In the face of China’s rapidly growing aggression, the move is long overdue, yet relevant for the maintenance of the international “status quo.” The strategy seems to herald a new