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Cambodia: Opposition party activists under threat


Cambodia: Opposition party activists under threat

(New York and London, July 28, 2004) - Cambodia's Prime Minister, Hun Sen, is trying to silence his political opponents by accusing them of forming an illegal rebel force, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today. Following the allegations, members of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party have gone into hiding, and many others fear arrest.

Hun Sen's allegations were first made public on 18 July, just three days after parliamentary approval of a new coalition government. The political atmosphere in Cambodia has been deteriorating ever since.

Hun Sen has accused members of the Sam Rainsy Party's Committee No. 14 of establishing a militant armed force. The party has made no effort to conceal the existence of Committee No. 14, a body of Sam Rainsy Party activists that monitors national defence, veterans' affairs, demobilization and public security. Chaired by Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian Cheam Channy, the committee is modelled after "shadow ministries" created by opposition parties around the world to monitor the performance of government ministries.

"In a blatant attempt to eradicate political dissent, opponents of the ruling party are being accused of plotting to use force to overthrow the government," said Amnesty International. "Threats and intimidation by senior political leaders are seriously challenging people's rights to freedom of association and expression."

As yet, the only evidence that has been produced of a military plot against the new government has been a series of supposed confessions from low-level alleged plotters that were broadcast on state-controlled media. Credible sources have reported that the confessions were extracted through the promise of money and jobs, and the threat of arrest and imprisonment.

"Obtaining confessions by force or by enticement has long been a feature of Cambodian politics and the judicial system," said Sam Zarifi, deputy director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. "Similarly, accusing political dissidents of plotting the violent overthrow of the government has been a well-worn tactic for intimidating the opposition."

Prime Minister Hun Sen has threatened to seek the removal of Cheam Channy's parliamentary immunity, so that he can be prosecuted. Hun Sen has also suggested that the Sam Rainsy Party's 24 members of parliament may not be allowed to resume their seats in the National Assembly once they return from abroad. All 24 left the country to boycott a parliamentary session to approve the new coalition government.

Civil society organizations, including human rights activists, have also come under fire from the new government. This has renewed fears that the current political campaign will broaden its range of targets to include others seen as opposing the government.

"There is a disturbing pattern of thinly-veiled threats against government critics or others who seek to exercise freedom of speech and association in Cambodia," said Amnesty International. "Rather than creating a climate of fear and instability, the new government should be protecting and promoting fundamental human rights."

Background

On 30 June, the incumbent Cambodian People's Party led by Prime Minister Hun Sen reached a power sharing agreement with the royalist Funcinpec Party of Prince Norodom Ranariddh. This followed a year-long political deadlock after inconclusive National Assembly elections in July 2003, in which Hun Sen's party failed to win the two-thirds majority required to form its own government.

The National Assembly - minus all 24 Sam Rainsy Party politicians, who boycotted the session - approved the coalition government on 15 July. The Sam Rainsy Party and some nongovernmental organizations have questioned the legality of the new government, which was formed on the basis of controversial amendments to the Constitution.

Cambodia in the Annual Report 2004: http://amnesty-news.c.topica.com/maacuL3aa8LL5bb0hPub/

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