|Cambodia's self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy speaks during a press conference in Tokyo, April 13, 2018. AP photo.|
Former CNRP Chief Sam Rainsy Slams Cambodia’s PM Hun Sen For Holding Political Detainees ‘Hostage’
RFA | 24 August 2018
The former chief of Cambodia’s now-dissolved opposition party on Friday accused Prime Minister Hun Sen of using the country’s political detainees as pawns in a bid to silence his critics at home and shield himself from international condemnation over an election widely seen as unfree and unfair.
On Aug. 23, Hun Sen said he is mulling a mass release of political detainees that is likely to include a dozen members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP)—Sam Rainsy’s former party, but that it was contingent upon the opposition putting an end to statements suggesting he is “under pressure” from the international community to do so following the July 29 general election.
The premier also suggested that the prisoners would have to sign statements condemning those who challenge his authority before they could be released.
Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) steamrolled last month’s ballot and secured all 125 parliamentary seats in play, but the victory has been widely dismissed as illegitimate following the dissolution of the CNRP in November and the arrest of its president Kem Sokha two months earlier over an alleged plot to topple the government, and amid a crackdown on the media and NGOs.
In response to Hun Sen’s comments, former CNRP President Sam Rainsy, who is living in self-imposed exile to avoid a host of what are seen as politically motivated convictions, slammed the prime minister for holding the detainees “hostage” in a bid to muzzle him and other critics of his government.
“Everyone in Cambodia, even the king [Norodom Sihamoni], is held hostage by Hun Sen,” he said during a Friday call-in show with RFA’s Khmer Service.
“Now the detainees are being forced to do what Hun Sen wants against their will. They are compelled to bow down to Hun Sen just to secure their release.”
Sam Rainsy said Hun Sen “can never hold me hostage” and vowed to “continue to speak the truth” about how the prime minister is failing Cambodia.
“The truth is that Hun Sen is under such tremendous international pressure that he has to release the detainees — it’s not a coincidence,” he said.
“Hun Sen pretends that he is a good-hearted person who sympathizes with the detainees. He is not. If he were a good-hearted person, he would not have arrested these people in the first place and would have released them long ago.”
Earlier on Friday, Sam Rainsy wrote in a post to his Facebook page that Hun Sen is “at a dead end.”
“The sham election he arranged has been strongly condemned and his new government lacks a mandate,” he said.
“The international community is mounting more pressure on him to restore democracy and he is desperate for legitimacy, so that is why he announced that he will release more detainees.”
The former CNRP chief suggested that even by releasing all political prisoners, Hun Sen will “still fall short” of satisfying international demands, and will have to reinstate the CNRP and allow its members to take part in politics again before pressure subsides.
The prime minister, who secured another five-year term to add to his 33 years in office after official election results were announced last week, has made a practice of heavy-handed crackdowns on his critics, followed by a relaxation of restrictions after facing international condemnation.
The U.S. last week announced an expansion of visa bans on individuals seen as limiting democracy in the country, as part of a series of “concrete steps” aimed at pressuring Cambodia to “reverse course” that included a decision to withdraw funding for last month’s elections.
The European Union, which was the second-largest trading partner of Cambodia in 2017, also withdrew support ahead of the ballot and is currently reviewing a preferential trade scheme for Cambodian exports based on the country’s election environment.