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CSOs express concern over ‘harassment’ of CNRP

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Former CNRP official Sin Rozeth outside Battambang provincial court on May 9. Photo supplied

CSOs express concern over ‘harassment’ of CNRP

More than 70 civil society groups issued a joint statement on Saturday expressing their concern at the alleged ongoing judicial harassment of former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) officials.

In their statement, the 73 local and international NGOs urged the government to cease their campaign of harassment, which has seen several former CNRP members arrested, summoned to court and detained in recent weeks under “vague allegations”.

However, a government spokesman responded to the statement by saying that the group’s views were not shared by the vast majority of civil society organisations in the Kingdom.

Citing a Voice of America report, the statement highlighted the 140 former CNRP members in Battambang, Kampong Thom, Kandal,

Kampong Speu and Tbong Khmum provinces who received summonses to appear for questioning by provincial courts in April and May.

It continued that of the 140, some had been arrested and questioned by local police. Those who had been questioned were not among the 118 former CNRP officials banned from politics by the Supreme Court in November 2017, but they stood accused of violating the court’s ruling by engaging in politics affiliated with the CNRP.

The statement also cited the case of former CNRP activist Kong Mas, who was arrested in January and placed in pre-trial detention on charges of “insult” and “incitement to commit a felony” in relation to posts he made on Facebook. He remains in custody after his bail request was denied in May.

The NGOs also cited legal action taken in March against eight CNRP officials living abroad, accusing them of “plotting” and “incitement to commit a felony”, as well as the death of Tith Rorn – the son of an ex-CNRP Kampong Cham province commune councillor – in police custody in April under what the group claim was suspicious circumstances.

Vorn Pov, the director of Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA) – one of the groups to sign the statement – said it not only called on the discontinuation of harassment of the former CNRP members but also an end to government restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression by civil society groups.

“We have issued the joint statement on two grounds. The first is the judicial bullying, threatening and intimidation of former CNRP members. The other is the restriction of freedom of expression and activities by all civil society organisations and unions."

“This is a concern because if the situation remains like this, it makes those who want to express themselves feel fear to talk about social matters."

“The second is that it does not make the political atmosphere better. We want the political situation to be better, doing what we can to retain Cambodia’s preferential Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement with the EU for the Cambodian people.

“So we urge and request the government to take measures not to persecute the former members of the CNRP and restrict the freedom of civil society groups,” Pov said.

He said this was an issue impacting the nation and the civil society groups were not biased towards any single party.

Sar Mory, the Cambodian Youth Network (CYN) deputy president and a fellow signatory of the joint statement warned that government restrictions on organisations and the CNRP risked causing the withdrawal of Cambodia’s EBA status and the loss of the US’ General System of Preferences (GSP) trade benefits.

Mory continued that if the EBA and the GSP were withdrawn, it would be garment workers and the Cambodian people who would be hurt most by the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in annual trade.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Six former CNRP officials wait outside Battambang provincial court on May 9. Photo supplied

“If the courts continue to groundlessly and unlawfully issue summonses for the former members of the CNRP, and even the continuation of restrictions on the freedom to peacefully assemble, relations with the EU and US will not be good and measures to suspend the preferential trade systems will take place."

“To ease the situation, the government can have negotiations with the former CNRP, hold a democratic election and open the space for civil society organisations,” Mory said.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan responded to the groups via Instagram on Sunday, saying the 73 civil society organisations represented less than one per cent of Cambodia’s civil society groups.

“The majority of groups ... 99 per cent ... do not support the law-breaking CNRP. So, no need to boast that many organisations have supported it. Their support for the CNRP is contrary to their principle which stipulates that civil society organisations have no political affiliation,” Eysan stressed.

Association (Idea) – one of the groups to sign the statement – said it not only called on the discontinuation of harassment of the former CNRP members but also an end to government restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression by civil society groups.

“We have issued the joint statement on two grounds. The first is the judicial bullying, threatening and intimidation of former CNRP members. The other is the restriction of freedom of expression and activities by all civil society organisations and unions.

“This is a concern because if the situation remains like this, it makes those who want to express themselves feel fear to talk about social matters."

“The second is that it does not make the political atmosphere better. We want the political situation to be better, doing what we can to retain Cambodia’s preferential Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement with the EU for the Cambodian people.

“So we urge and request the government to take measures not to persecute the former members of the CNRP and restrict the freedom of civil society groups,” Pov said.

He said this was an issue impacting the nation and the civil society groups were not biased towards any single party.

Sar Mory, the Cambodian Youth Network (CYN) deputy president and a fellow signatory of the joint statement, warned that government restrictions on organisations and the CNRP risked causing the withdrawal of Cambodia’s EBA status and the loss of the US’ General System of Preferences (GSP) trade benefits.

Mory continued that if the EBA and the GSP were withdrawn, it would be garment workers and the Cambodian people who would be hurt most by the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in annual trade.

“If the courts continue to groundlessly and unlawfully issue summonses for the former members of the CNRP, and even the continuation of restrictions on the freedom to peacefully assemble, relations with the EU and the US will not be good and measures to suspend the preferential trade systems will take place."

“To ease the situation, the government can have negotiations with the former CNRP, hold a democratic election and open the space for civil society organisations,” Mory said.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan responded to the groups on Sunday, saying the 73 civil society organisations represented less than one per cent of Cambodia’s civil society groups.

“The majority of groups . . . 99 per cent . . . do not support the law-breaking CNRP. So, no need to boast that many organisations have supported it. Their support for the CNRP is contrary to their principle which stipulates that civil society organisations have no political affiliation,” Eysan stressed.

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