Human Rights Watch called on the Cambodian government to allow the return of exiled opposition leaders and freely resume political activities. Prime Minister Hun Sen has threatened to arrest Sam Rainsy and other party leaders of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), who plan to return on November 09, Cambodian Independence Day.
Hun Sen has repeatedly called on Rainsy to return to Cambodia to be imprisoned, but now says he and other party leaders cannot return, Human Rights Watch said. On September 17, Hun Sen declared that the government had sent other ASEAN countries arrest warrants for Sam Rainsy in an effort to prevent him from transiting through them to reach Cambodia.
“After banning the opposition and staging sham trials to convict Sam Rainsy, now Prime Minister Hun Sen is blocking Rainsy’s return to the country,” said Brad Adams, Asia director, Human Rights Watch.
Without offering evidence, on September 26, a Phnom Penh court charged eight leading members of the CNRP who had left Cambodia ahead of the July 2018 elections – Sam Rainsy, Mu Sochua, OuChanrith, EngChhaiEang, Men Sothavarin, Long Ry, Tob Van Chan, and Ho Vann – with attempting to stage a coup.
Since Rainsy announced that he would return to Cambodia, the Cambodian authorities have arrested 92 suspected CNRP activists and others on various charges, including plotting against the state, incitement to commit a felony, and discrediting judicial decisions, and detained 45 of them.
“It’s ridiculous that the Cambodian government is treating a political party that has always engaged in nonviolence as a military threat,” Adams said. “The government should immediately end this harassment campaign against the political opposition, drop all politically motivated charges, and unconditionally release those wrongfully held.”
The authorities have forced about 143 opposition members to surrender to police and publicly denounce the CNRP to avoid arrest for “plotting” under article 454 of Cambodia’s penal code, the Phnom Penh Post reported.
Under article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Cambodia is party, “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.” (Source: Human Rights Watch)