The Cambodia National Rescue Movement has hired a US-based public relations firm to help with their “campaign” to resurrect democracy in Cambodia, documents show.
The publicly available agreement with the firm BerlinRosen was released per the Foreign Agents Registration Act in March, and discloses that the firm will engage in twice-monthly media initiatives for Cambodia’s beleaguered opposition.
The Cambodia National Rescue Party – the ruling party’s only viable challenger – was dissolved in the run-up to the highly anticipated July national elections. Party President Kem Sokha languishes in prison on “treason” charges, while former President Sam Rainsy lives in self-imposed exile to avoid a similar fate.
Rainsy and others launched the CNRM from America in January, demanding the release of Sokha and the reinstatement of the CNRP. The movement has also appealed for sanctions and other international measures, while Rainsy has pledged to call for protests in the future.
Although Rainsy was always insistent that the CNRM was not a political party, but rather an informal “movement”, the group is identified as a “foreign political party” in the agreement with BerlinRosen.
The CNRM agreed to pay the firm $250,000 for services until August 10, covering the remaining months until the election.
The contract specifies clearly that BerlinRosen will not engage in any lobbying, but rather will perform “political activities” and may act as a “public relations counsel” or “publicity agent”.
The “scope of work” includes an in-person meeting with CNRM leaders in America, followed by “ongoing communication and coordination”.
The firm will also engage in messaging development, issuing press releases and shaping “core narrative messages”.
“BerlinRosen will conduct up to two proactive media pushes per month, focused on outreach to U.S. progressive and mainstream media . . . and select international press,” the agreement continues.
The company, in a statement on Thursday, said is was "proud to partner with the Cambodia National Rescue Movement to elevate the calls of the movement and its supporters worldwide for free and fair elections in Cambodia.”
The agreement was first reported by Asia Times, although Rainsy blasted their coverage as “largely inaccurate and biased” in an email yesterday.
Rainsy said the article set a “partisan tone” by alleging the move was a sign of “desperation”.
He continued that the CNRM has “many friends worldwide” who will help them achieve their goal of bringing democracy to Cambodia.
“We are working to attain this goal with the best people both in Cambodia and on the international stage,” he said.
Far from a sign of desperation, Rainsy insisted the CNRM is moving forward with renewed intent.
“You will see an acceleration of coordinated initiatives and events,” he pledged.
Dr Astrid Noren-Nilsson, a political scientist who specialises in Cambodia, said it makes “perfect sense” for the movement to focus on American and international media.
“There is probably nothing that the CNRM can do at home alone that would be politically efficient,” she said in an email on Wednesday.
Noren-Nilsson went on to add that international attention may be the best way of “encouraging opposition supporters back home”.
Dr Paul Chambers, a lecturer at Thailand’s Naresuan University, said a media campaign could be an effective way to “shore up support”, but may backfire within Cambodia.
“The use of this US PR firm could play into the hands of Hun Sen, who can now say that . . . the use of this company by the CNRM proves that the movement is a tool of US interests out to destroy Cambodia,” he said via email.
Meanwhile, the Northern District of California court set a hearing date for Rainsy’s request for information from social media giant Facebook, which is facing unprecedented scrutiny amidst a series of international scandals.
Rainsy has accused Facebook of allowing Prime Minister Hun Sen to misuse the platform for the company’s financial benefit. He claims that information related to Hun Sen’s activity on the platform will help exonerate him of various legal charges – including that he defamed the premier by accusing him of buying Facebook “likes”.
Facebook, has flat-out rejected Rainsy’s request, however, leaving the case in the hands of a California court.
The hearing will be held on the morning of April 30 before Judge Sallie Kim in San Francisco.