A group of former opposition lawmakers has requested international bodies pressure the government to end the “ongoing harassment” of former Battambang Commune Chief Sin Rozeth.
The letters, filed on February 12 but made public yesterday, were addressed to Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). In them, 13 former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmakers outline how Rozeth has been subjected to “bullying” by ruling Cambodian People’s Party officials, including lawmaker Chheang Vun.
The missives refer to Vun’s “unfounded allegations” that Rozeth, who lost her position and salary after her party was forcibly dissolved, was “conducting political activity” by serving “rebels” at a restaurant she opened following her ouster. The reference to rebels echoes recent comments by ruling party officials, who have accused the remnants of the CNRP – including a nonviolent “movement” recently founded in exile by former party leader Sam Rainsy – of plotting an armed insurrection.
“Given the dire state of democracy and rule of law in Cambodia, as well as the myriad of court cases that are being undertaken against members of the opposition and civil society, we are extremely concerned that these allegations could turn into more serious charges,” the letters read.
Vun declined to comment yesterday. In a Facebook post late last month, he wrote: “I saw those who supported the rebel movement go to the dumpling shop. If this restaurant is used as a place to gather fire, it is really dangerous for Rozeth and it should not be tolerated.”
In response, Rozeth put up a tongue-in-cheek banner, reading: “Rozeth’s shop welcomes all guests, but not rebels.” She was then reprimanded by Battambang Governor Peng Sithy.
The ex-lawmakers’ letter to CEDAW, meanwhile, points out that the harassment of Rozeth is uniquely concerning given that she was the only female commune chief elected in Battambang.
“In a country where women’s representation and participation in politics still lags, it is all the more important that the government refrain from sending a message that female politicians are vulnerable to harassment and reprisals,” it reads.
All of the letters go on to ask the groups to raise concerns with the National Assembly and ask it to “ensure the safety of Sin Rozeth”.
National Assembly spokesman Leng Peng Long dismissed the letters, saying they were “twisting and lying”.
“There is not any harassment,” he said. “Any intervention from the international organisations is interfering in Cambodian internal affairs.”
He also criticised the former CNRP leaders’ use of National Assembly letterhead, saying they had “no right” to it. Yesterday Rozeth requested “powerful people” to “please stop threatening” her.
“I am concerned about my personal security and about my business. If someone files a complaint against me, I cannot do anything,” she said.
International observers have long criticised Cambodia’s use of the court to smother political dissent.
“I am a normal vendor . . . I still continue trading because my business is honest, and innocent,” Rozeth said.
Additional reporting by Ben Sokhean
Updated 7:02am, Thursday 15 February 2018