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MEPs demand Sokha case be dropped after motion passed

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People check their names on a voters list at a polling station in Phnom Penh before July 29’s national elections. Manan VATSYAYANA/afp

MEPs demand Sokha case be dropped after motion passed

The European Parliament on Thursday approved a motion for a resolution on Cambodia, with the body insisting that all charges against former Cambodia National Rescue Party president Kem Sokha must be dropped.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) also called for “a list of individuals responsible for the dissolution of the Cambodian opposition and other serious human rights violations” in the Kingdom to be drawn up, “with the aim of imposing possible visa restrictions and asset freezes on them”.

A statement on its website said: “Following widespread and systematic repression of the political opposition and electoral rights in Cambodia, the European Parliament urges its government to put an end to all forms of harassment and politically motivated charges and rulings against politicians, human rights defenders, trade unionists, civil society activists and journalists.

“Parliament also expresses its serious concerns over the conduct and results of the 2018 elections, which failed to produce a credible process, and underlines that this electoral procedure cannot be considered free and fair.

“MEPs demand that the Cambodian authorities drop all charges against prominent opposition leader Kem Sokha, and call for his immediate and full release from house arrest. This also goes for all other politicians, including Sam Rainsy, who has been charged, detained or imprisoned for the same reasons."

“Parliament also asks the European External Action Service and the European Commission to compile a list of individuals responsible for the dissolution of the Cambodian opposition and other serious human rights violations in the country, with the aim of imposing possible visa restrictions and asset freezes on them,” it said.

Before the motion was voted on, ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesman Sok Eysan said that whatever the European Parliament decided would have no impact on the Kingdom as it “cannot control Cambodia”.

“[Any] decision is the right [of those] who are outside Cambodia. It doesn’t cover the independence and sovereignty of Cambodia because the Supreme Court dissolved the former opposition party, so nothing can be reversed. Otherwise, [what is the point of] the Supreme Court of Cambodia?” he asked.

“The Cambodian context is in Cambodia. The European Parliament cannot control Cambodia, the Cambodian parliament or the Cambodian courts.”

Eysan said the decision of the EU to bring forward the motion was influenced by politics. “[The reasons] are a mixture. It is economic, but it is mixed with politics, to put pressure on Cambodia. Where are the human rights, the democracy?

“They are parliamentarians but they don’t understand the law. They just use power to pressure weaker and smaller countries,” he said.

At the motion’s hearing, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, who was the last person to speak at the parliament, called on the Cambodian government to reverse a “significant step backwards for Cambodia’s fragile democracy” and open dialogue with the opposition.

“[There has been] a significant step backwards for Cambodia’s fragile democracy, [with] one-party-rule, and authoritarian tendencies, and the space for the opposition and civil society has not just shrunk but simply closed,” she said. “So ... now we are considering the possibility of further measures.”

Mogherini said she welcomed the recent release on bail of Sokha, which she said was a positive first step.

“We now expect the dropping of all charges and the removal of all restrictions placed upon him, and we invite Prime Minister [Hun Sen] and all the leaders of the opposition to start a dialogue on the way forward,” she said.

“We also call on the Cambodian government to guarantee the safe return of all exiled opposition politicians, civil society activists and human rights defenders who fled the country to avoid arrest,” she added.

Preap Kol, the director of Transparency International Cambodia, said if all the points were adopted, they would have a significant impact on Cambodia.

“The language used in the proposed resolution is very strong, with concrete conditions and demands. If all the points are passed in their current form, it will surely have an implication on the relationship between Cambodia and the EU in trade, financial assistance and bilateral cooperation,” he said.

However, he said the Cambodian Government should be given a chance to respond to the demands to avoid any negative impact from punitive measures in the medium and long-term.

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