An artists’ association in Cambodia has condemned the “dirty tricks” that are “systematically” perpetrated by Australian activists who invite popular singers to perform Down Under, equating the performances with “treason” and accusing organisers of exploiting singers’ popularity as a form of political propaganda.
Monday’s statement also said it would consider taking legal measures against one organiser, Dara Nita, who was named as a kind of mastermind in the purported musical plot, along with Victorian state MP Hong Lim and Chea Youhorn, the mayor of the city of Greater Dandenong.
“The Association of Artists for Social Charity would like to reveal the dirty trick of sending artists to perform in Australia engaged by the opposition parties, and the anti-Cambodian government activities which are systematically carried out” by Lim, Youhorn and Nita, the statement read.
The statement alleged Nita “colluded” with many artists to sing in Australia, and said the American nonprofit IKARE, for which she volunteers, supports “the movement of an anti-legitimate government” and the musicians’ popularity helps to “mainstream political messages”.
“If you artists participate in the movement and activities, it means you participate in treason against the country with the opposition party movement.”
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party – the only viable competition to the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party – was forced to dissolve in November over allegations it was fomenting a foreign-backed “revolution”. Its leader, Kem Sokha, was jailed on widely decried “treason” charges two months prior.
Nita has since fled Cambodia for New Zealand fearing arrest, and in an interview with Radio Free Asia on Tuesday, she rubbished the claims, as did Youhorn in an interview on Wednesday.
Nita told RFA that coordinating with singers to perform in Australia was a cultural opportunity, not a political ploy.
“I would like to reject the accusation against me; there is no articulate evidence to prove it,” she said. “I work for charities, not politics.”
She said she had only recently touched down in Cambodia for visa reasons and to visit her sick mother, but “when I returned and arrived in Cambodia, there seemed to be preparations for arresting me”, she said, referring to the statement and photos of her circulating on social media.
“I cannot see my mother; it really affected me mentally,” she said, adding she quickly left the Kingdom for New Zealand.
The statement comes after a period of heightened tensions between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Australian protesters, who set multiple effigies of the premier alight after he said he would follow them home and beat them up if they did so.
Lim, Youhorn and slain political analyst Kem Ley’s widow, Bou Rachana, were all recently issued a crude death threat, which Victoria Police are investigating.
Youhorn, speaking from Australia on Wednesday, laughed off the claims as “nonsense” and said they were likely linked to the recent heated protests.
He denied any political undercurrent in inviting performers to Australia, saying it was merely an opportunity for them to showcase their talents internationally.
“I’m not belonging to the CNRP at all,” he said, pointing out he had supported Hun Sen in the early 1990s before Cambodia’s first election, and echoing statements from Hong Lim that Australian protesters were not linked to the opposition party.
“As you know in Australia, everyone hates Hun Sen’s government, because [there is] no freedom,” Youhorn said.