The Australian Parliament is considering a motion to condemn Cambodia’s political crackdown, with lawmaker Mark Butler declaring Australia has “a solemn duty” to take action to defend Cambodia’s “fledgling democracy”.
“Cambodia has reached a point of deep political crisis,” Butler said in his opening remarks at a Monday session, noting the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha, the dissolution of his Cambodia National Rescue Party and the shuttering of independent media outlets and pro-democracy organisations.
Butler’s motion, originally submitted in October, demands the release of Sokha and the removal of civil society restrictions, while also condemning the dissolution of the CNRP.
“These latest outrages are undeniably an escalation by the regime and must be met with diplomatic resistance at the highest levels,” Butler said. He did not specify exactly what form diplomatic resistance should take.
“I call on this Parliament to acknowledge that Australia has an important role to play in the safeguarding and furthering of Cambodian democracy,” he added.
The subject will be revisited at Parliament's next sitting, beginning February 12.
Australia’s original reaction to the CNRP's dissolution was less than forceful, with Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop expressing “concern” while emphasising that Cambodia is a “friend” of Australia.
Indeed, government spokesman Phay Siphan today said he was not concerned by Butler's remarks because "the executive still cares about cooperation and good relations".
"They have no right to interfere with our internal issues," he said.
Former CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua, meanwhile, commended Butler’s motion.
Sochua said a CNRP “delegation” would visit Australia for the full month of March, and would meet with Butler and other members of Parliament personally.
Despite Prime Minister Hun Sen’s recent warning to former CNRP politicians not to "come near Asia" lest they be arrested, Sochua said the CNRP would also officially begin meeting with Asean nations to drum up support for their cause.
“It’s a free world, democracy is global. He wants to come and get me? Fine,” Sochua said. “But I will not let democracy in Cambodia die”.
Siphan said the government had made it clear that they want Asean nations to "send those people back to face justice".
"We have a right to request extradition," he said, adding that failing to do so would indicate a desire "not to cooperate with Cambodia".