Prime Minister Hun Sen has instructed the Interior Ministry to investigate the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and potentially close it “because they follow foreigners”, appearing to link the rights group to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party's purported “revolution”.
The CNRP - the country's largest opposition party - was dissolved by the Supreme Court in a widely condemned decision earlier this month over accusations it was engaging in a foreign-backed “lotus revolution”. The party's former president, Kem Sokha, is currently jailed awaiting trial on “treason” charges after telling supporters he received advice from the US.
Sokha founded CCHR in 2002, and Hun Sen this morning suggested that he had attempted to conceal foreign influence in the NGO, telling a gathering of garment workers that CCHR “must close because they follow foreigners”.
“The Ministry of Interior should check, because they were created by foreigners, not Khmers,” he said.
“If it’s an international NGO, and they come to create it and ask our permission, it’s not an issue,” he continued. “But this one is [registered as] Khmer and was created by foreigners to do this and do that.”
CCHR is one of the most prominent local NGOs in Cambodia, and has long been critical of the government in advocating for greater respect for human and civil rights.
The NGO released a statement this afternoon, denying all allegations and reiterating its independence.
“CCHR wishes to re-affirm its absolute non-partisanship and independence from all political parties. Strict independence is a core value of CCHR, which strives to provide a balanced and principled human rights analysis of public affairs, without favoring any party,” they wrote. “CCHR firmly believes that any independent and impartial investigation into CCHR would find no wrongdoing whatsoever on the part of the organization.”
They then call on the government to “enter into a meaningful dialogue with CCHR representatives in relation to these allegations”.
Ministry of Interior spokesperson Khieu Sopheak could not be immediately reached.
Updates to follow.
Additional reporting by Leonie Kijewski
This story has been updated to reflect a statement from CCHR.