Representatives from various NGOs on Monday rejected accusations of being engaged in a purported anti-government plot made in an op-ed published by ruling party mouthpiece Fresh News.
The opinion piece, credited to a “Pol Peanorin” and published Thursday, mostly targeted groups working in land rights advocacy, including the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC), the NGO Forum and Inclusive Development International (IDI). The Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA), an independent union, was also briefly mentioned.
In the past, Fresh News’s editorials and letters to the editor accusing organisations or individuals of conspiracy have preceded government action against those accused.
“Civil society organisations arranging the colour revolution with the opposition party are lately in hiding,” Peanorin wrote in the editorial. “Some are changing their image and their actions in order to hide their terrible plan, serving foreign ambitions and destroying the nation.”
The op-ed also attacks the organisations for allegedly undermining the upcoming elections, which have been widely criticised for not including the forcibly dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, widely seen as the only viable competitor to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
CCFC and its president, Theng Savoeun, have recently been singled out as participants in a supposed revolution, and were subjected to the most scathing criticisms in the editorial, with Peanorin saying they are “full of tricks and poisonous schemes”. The organisation has recently seen a number of its events, including informational gatherings on agricultural techniques, dispersed by authorities who questioned its purported relationship with the remnants of the opposition.
Peanorin also accused Savoeun of secretly working to set a “plan for demonstrations among the farmers . . . in order to create future social turmoil”.
He said the CCFC president worked closely with IDEA Director Vorn Pov, whom he accused of planning the demonstrations that followed the disputed 2013 elections, the bulk of which revolved around the garment sector minimum wage.
“It is not true,” Pov said on Monday. “We just work to protest in the interest of workers.”
Peanorin cites a “close source” who supposedly told him CCFC is planning a “Farmer Revolution or Green Revolution”. He goes on to say the group’s work advocating for farmers’ land rights is “incitement” against the government.
“CCFC [is] not involve in plans to overthrow the government,” Savoeun said in an email.
Former opposition leader Sam Rainsy denied any connection between these groups and the opposition party, calling the accusation a “pretext” to crackdown on civil society.
“They are protesting because of their opposition to revolting land grabbing,” he wrote in an email.
NGO Forum Executive Director Tek Vannara said the organisation is “independent” and dedicated only to “sustainable development” for Cambodia, emphasising that the article was just one man’s opinion.
Nonetheless, Fresh News’ opinion pieces have been prescient in the past. A series of articles last year made similar conspiratorial accusations against the National Democratic Institute and opposition leader Kem Sokha. NDI was subsequently shut down and Sokha was arrested for “treason”.
Representatives from the Ministry of Interior could not be reached.
Additional reporting by Kong Meta