Thousands of Cambodians and foreign diplomats took part in an International Human Rights Day rally yesterday, exactly one year on from the launch of a government crackdown on critics.
US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli joined human-rights activists at Phnom Penh's National Stadium in urging the government to respect civil liberties.
"During the year as many as 71 community or labor activists were illegally detained and/or had spurious charges brought against them. Peaceful assemblies andd demonstrations are also routinely prohibited," Mussomeli told the rally.
"The government need not retain an iron grip on demonstrations, on criticism, on the ability of citizens to fight against injustice and corruption," he said.
Human rights groups that organized the rally estimated that 10,000 people attended.
After a similar rally last year, several human-rights activists were arrested because of a banner criticizing Prime Minister Hun Sen for a controversial border pact he had signed with Vietnam.
The director of the US-funded Cambodian Center for Human Rights, Kem Sokha, was among those arrested with two human-right workers, a union leader and a journalist and were accused of defaming Hun Sen. The government's move drew strong condemnation at home and abroad.
"Our struggle is not to no avail," Kem Sokha said, adding that the government's stance toward critics appears to have softened since last year.
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