Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Cambodia: Prime Minister Moves to Crush Dissent

(New York, October 18, 2005)?The government of Cambodian Prime
Minister Hun Sen should release recently arrested critics of the
government, withdraw all arrest warrants against activists, and end the
climate of fear that he has created in recent days, Human Rights Watch
said today.

In response to criticism over a new border pact with Vietnam, Hun Sen
has launched a sharp and sudden crackdown on dissent. Authorities have
arrested the president of an independent teachers association and the
director of Cambodia's only independent national radio station, and they
have ordered the arrests of other civil society leaders.

Many of Cambodia's leading human rights advocates, trade union
activists, and opposition party members have now fled the country or
gone into hiding.

"This is the most severe assault on dissent in Cambodia since the
aftermath of Hun Sen's coup in 1997," said Brad Adams, Asia director of
Human Rights Watch. "International donors and embassies must make it
clear to Hun Sen that they will not tolerate the reversal of the important
strides made in basic human rights during the last decade."

The crackdown started with Hun Sen's visit on October 10-12 to Vietnam,
where he signed a controversial border treaty. On October 10, dozens of
armed police officers surrounded the Phnom Penh home of Mom
Sonando, director of Beehive Radio FM 105. He was arrested the next
morning on charges of defamation after having aired an interview with a
Cambodian activist in France who is highly critical of the border treaty.

Upon return to Cambodia, Hun Sen announced that he would prosecute
anyone who alleged that he, or the Cambodian government, had "sold
land" to Vietnam. Such statements are an "act of treason," he said.

In a meeting with international investors on October 14, Hun Sen
announced that legal action was being taken against four members of the
Cambodia Watchdog Council, a nongovernmental organization that had
issued a statement on October 11 criticizing the border agreement.

On October 15, police arrested Cambodia Watchdog Council member
Rong Chhun, who is also president of the Cambodian Independent
Teachers Association, as he was attempting to cross the border to
Thailand to seek asylum. No arrest warrant was produced, but he was
charged with defamation and incitement under articles 60 and 63 of the
Cambodian penal code, which carry prison terms of five years for
incitement and one year for defamation and a fine up to $2,500. Charges
have also been brought against other members of the Cambodia
Watchdog Council, including Chea Mony, President of the Free Trade
Union Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia; Ea Channa, representative
of the Student's Movement for Democracy; and Men Nath, president of
the Civil Servants Association.

"Legal action should not be used as a tool of repression to silence the
political opposition and government critics in Cambodia," said Adams.
"Hun Sen needs to accept that in a democracy leaders will be criticized
when they make controversial decisions."

In a speech broadcast on Cambodian television on October 17, Hun Sen
threatened to abolish the monarchy and sack military chief Ke Kim Yan
and other officials if they did not abide by his orders. He warned
international organizations and foreign governments not to interfere. He
called on the Thai government to extradite Cambodians suspected of
fleeing to Bangkok over the weekend to seek asylum.

The Cambodian government is now pressuring the Thai government to
return individuals who have fled to Thailand for sanctuary. Returning
persons to a place where they face persecution would violate the strict
international legal prohibition against non-refoulement.

"The Thai government should not even discuss the return of individuals
who are facing persecution for the peaceful expression of their political
beliefs," said Adams. "To do so would make Thailand complicit in this
assault on free expression."

To view this document on the Human Rights Watch web site, please visit:
http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/10/18/cambod11892.htm

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