In its annual country report for Cambodia, Human Rights Watch yesterday slammed the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, saying it said had “significantly escalated” its persecution of opponents, activists and critics during 2016.
The organisation, which has long criticised the country’s poor human rights record under Prime Minister Hun Sen’s three-decade rule, yesterday released its World Report, which assesses the performance of more than 90 countries it monitors.
For Cambodia, the picture was again grim.
Widely criticised cases against Cambodia National Rescue Party leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, opposition lawmakers and members, human rights workers, land activists and election officials featured prominently in the report, which connected the crackdown to looming elections.
“These abuses appeared aimed to prevent victory by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party in local and national elections scheduled for 2017 and 2018,” it reads.
Though the soldier claimed he shot Ley over a debt, it is widely believed the killing was an organised hit.
HRW also criticised the suppression of protests, citing repeated public threats by senior military officials to crack down on demonstrations.
Lamenting the “huge problem” of corruption, the report accused the Anti-Corruption Unit of acting as a political tool, rather than pursuing high-level officials involved in graft.
It noted the institution, led by close Hun Sen ally Om Yentieng, had taken the lead on the investigation into an alleged affair by Sokha with a hairdresser.
The probe saw four members of rights group Adhoc, an election official and a commune chief jailed, and led Sokha to spend six months holed up inside CNRP headquarters to avoid arrest in a related case.
“2016 was a very bad year. It reflected a return to political persecution i.e. CPP against rivals and civil society members,” HRW deputy director for Asia Phil Robertson said yesterday, adding the future outlook was also bleak.
“We are worried that the downward trend on human rights is going to accelerate as we get closer to elections the CPP fears they may lose.”
Head of the government’s Cambodian Human Rights Committee Keo Remy yesterday hung up on a Post reporter seeking comment.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan, meanwhile dismissed HRW’s report as “manipulation”.
“They don’t reveal the facts,” he said, saying those imprisoned had broken the law. “HRW is not a legal institution, it’s political. They just manipulate for political reasons.”