Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Gov’t arrest strategy has familiar feel to it

Gov’t arrest strategy has familiar feel to it

Gov’t arrest strategy has familiar feel to it


The round-up and detention of seven opposition lawmakers-elect on insurrection charges in the past three days bears the stamp of longstanding ruling party tactics used to silence dissent. But political observers say this week’s clampdown is so wide in scale that it can only be compared to a similar blitz almost a decade ago.

“The arrests of the past few days are unprecedented. The last time something close to this happened was in early 2005, when Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Cheam Channy was arrested on charges of trying to form a ‘secret army’ to overthrow the government,” Sebastian Strangio, author of the forthcoming book Hun Sen’s Cambodia, said yesterday.

Sam Rainsy and Chea Poch, another SRP lawmaker, were hit with defamation charges at around the same time but managed to escape the country after their parliamentary immunity was stripped.

Later in the year, five civil society activists, including CNRP deputy leader Kem Sokha, then head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, were arrested for allegedly criticising a controversial border agreement with Vietnam.

In early 2006, the activists were released, Channy was granted a royal pardon after being sentenced to seven years, and Rainsy was allowed to return in moves that Strangio attributes to foreign pressure, which “has always imposed limits on how far the government can go in marginalising its opponents”.

“However, the stakes are now much higher. The government faces a more unified opposition, with greater popular support. This new outbreak of confrontation will sooner or later cycle back to some sort of negotiated settlement, but at the moment it’s impossible to say when that might happen – or how many people will be hurt in the meantime.”

Cambodian Center for Human Rights Chairman Ou Virak also cited the same incident nearly a decade ago, and said that government tactics were “like a broken record”.

“The way they are going about doing these things [is] not new. It’s exactly like in 2005 . . . Another possibility is with Sam Rainsy out of the country they could bring a charge now to try and prevent him coming back.”

The outcome of all this, Virak says, will also likely reflect past political crackdowns.

“Sam Rainsy will go to the international community and get condemnation, the international press will report the comments, eventually there might be some ‘breakthrough’ and then they will return to what was before the crackdown, which is not pretty anyway.”


  • Phnom Penh authorities ban march for Human Rights Day

    Phnom Penh authorities have banned a planned march as local NGOs and workers’ unions gear up to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on Monday, with a youth group leader saying they would march nonetheless. The UN

  • Phnom Penh’s Jet’s Container Night Market shuts down

    The famous Jet’s Container Night Market in central Phnom Penh has shut down due to the high cost of the land rental, company representatives claim. Jet’s Container Night Market is the largest such market in Phnom Penh. It operated for just over two

  • Hun Sen rejects ‘rift’ rumours spread by ‘stupid gangsters’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday denied a “rift” among top leaders of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), and rejected claims that Senate president Say Chhum and Interior Minister Sar Kheng were set to be removed from their positions as rumours spread by “gangsters”.

  • EU ambassador to Cambodia: Rights a ‘work in progress’

    The EU ambassador to Cambodia has called human rights “a work in progress” and said the 28-nation bloc has “carefully” noted last week’s statement by the government on taking further steps to strengthen democracy and the political sphere in the Kingdom. The EU marked