National Defence Minister Tea Banh threatened to use military force to crack down on the opposition party and its supporters if they do not accept election results, saying they would be “beaten until their teeth come out” should protesters take to the streets.
Banh made the remarks while speaking to the public at the inauguration ceremony of a new Siem Reap Provincial Administrative Hall on Sunday.
“‘Change, change. Hun Sen step down.’ This time these words will not be spoken. I’m warning beforehand, but not again,” Banh said, referring to slogans shouted by protesters following the 2013 national elections.
The protests were ultimately met with a violent response. About two months after the election, one bystander was shot dead and four demonstrators were left seriously injured after a crackdown at the Monivong Bridge.
Months later, as protests dragged on, anonymous thugs wielding cudgels cleared a nonviolent opposition sit-in at Freedom Park.
“When they lose the election, but refuse to accept and come demanding this and that, we will not allow it. They will be beaten until their teeth come out,” Banh said yesterday, before reminding his audience to vote for the CPP to maintain stability and development, a frequent refrain from ruling party leaders.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann declined to respond to Banh’s threat but appealed to politicians and citizens to join together to build a society without violence.
“We must try to do everything to build a society without looking down, a society with dignity, a society that encourages youth,” Sovann said.
Chak Sopheap, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the comments were at odds with the military’s legal obligations, and were likely made “to intimidate the Cambodian public into voting based on fear”.
“State forces must be used to help guarantee the peaceful exercise of rights, including the right to peacefully demonstrate, rather than violate them,” she said via email.
Political analyst Meas Ny said the “escalating” rhetoric used by the ruling party stems from fear of domestic and international backlash over harsh measures to stifle dissent.
Ny speculated that the CPP may be more cautious than before to react violently due to the growing use of Facebook, which allows users to easily share footage of intimidation.