Tension rises in Cambodia ahead of communal elections

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Activists remember the murder of environmentalist Chut Vuthy and demand a new investigation

Relatives of jailed opposition members demonstrate outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court March 17 as the court convicts opposition figures for an alleged plot to overthrow strong leader Hun Sen. (Photo: AFP)

Posted: Apr 28, 2022 09:20 GMT

The leader of a newly formed political party has been arrested while former leaders of the banned Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) have appealed for clemency following their conviction for trying to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge Ly Sokha has detained National Heart Party (NHP) founder Siam Phluk following his arrest for allegedly falsifying documents needed to contest the June 5 communal elections.

In March, the NHP was dropped from the list of parties vying for the election amid complaints from many of the 16 political parties that will face the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) for control of 1,652 municipalities.

Candidates from the Candlelight Party – formed from the remnants of the CNRP – have alleged bribes were offered before their candidates were disqualified from contesting three communes while others say they were forced by CPP leaders to lodge a complaint against their own party.

Others were barred from contesting the ballot after the National Election Committee claimed these candidates could not read or write Khmer, but these claims have been challenged and include 150 Candlelight Party candidates.

The latest political maneuverings came as former CNRP official Kong Sam An appealed a seven-year prison sentence for plotting to overthrow the government following a failed attempt by the exiled leader of the CNRP, Sam Rainsy, to return at the end of 2019.

“I was simply exercising my constitutionally guaranteed freedom and speech rights when I participated in these social events. It wasn’t incitement.”

“I am old and live with many illnesses in prison,” the former high school teacher said. “I’m asking the Supreme Court to drop my charges and release me from jail so my chronic illnesses can be treated and I can be with my family.”

He denied any involvement with former CNRP officials and alleged attempts to overthrow the government, saying he only met former supporters for dinners and a “clean hands campaign”.

“I was simply exercising my constitutionally guaranteed freedom and speech rights when I participated in these social events. It was not incitement,” Kong Sam An said. “I did not incite the people to go against the government as the accused.”

Tensions also rose as supporters marked the 10th anniversary of the murder of environmentalist Chut Vuthy, who was shot while investigating illegal logging, with calls from civil society groups and his family for a new independent investigation into his murder.

“We believe that real justice has not yet been served, especially who was behind the order to shoot,” Heng Kimhong, Cambodian Youth Network program manager, told Voice of Democracy.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Sar Kheng told officials to remain politically neutral during the election, urging government employees to remain non-partisan and not carry out CPP activities during working hours or outside. use state resources.

“Civil servants should not use the budget, materials, facilities and means of transport, which are the property of the state, to campaign for a party,” he said in a letter published by public authorities. pro-government media.

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