World, Asia - Pacific

Cambodia PM slammed as 'autocrat' by human rights group

Lawsuit against opposition leader couched in allegations that enable autocrats to maintain grip on power, says rights group

04.08.2016
Cambodia PM slammed as 'autocrat' by human rights group

By Lauren Crothers

PHNOM PENH

The latest lawsuit filed against Cambodia’s self-exiled opposition leader is couched in allegations that have enabled autocrats such as the Cambodian Prime Minister to maintain their grip on power, a New York-based human rights group claimed Thursday.

The suit, which was filed on behalf of the premier, Hun Sen, on Monday, accuses Cambodia National Rescue Party Sam Rainsy and a senator from Rainsy’s old political party of defamation and incitement to social unrest for claiming that the government was behind the July 10 murder of Kem Ley, a prominent government critic.

In its briefing note sent out Thursday, the Human Rights Foundation said “criminal indictments for ‘defamation,’ ‘incitement to public disorder,’ or ‘insulting public institutions,’ to name a few, have proven to be valuable tools in every autocrat’s repressive arsenal.”

HRF president Thor Halvorssen said the language used in the law to describe various offenses is often similar, “in overly broad and vague terms,” and as a result, “can be interpreted so as to criminalize any legitimate opposition activity, such as Mr. Rainsy’s remarks.”

“Prime Minister Sen and his henchmen must stop crippling Cambodia’s beleaguered democratic opposition,” Halvorssen said. “All charges against Mr. Rainsy should be dropped immediately.”

Lawsuits have been piling up against Rainsy, who has been in self-imposed exile again since late last year, in a bid to avoid imprisonment on a separate defamation conviction that spawns from a years-old case brought against him by the former Foreign Minister, Hor Namhong.

This case is the third accusing him of defamation this year.

Defamation and incitement charges have been frequently invoked in cases against members of the opposition and civil society here.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan told Anadolu Agency on Thursday that Hun Sen had the right to defend himself against accusations that he was involved in the assassination of Kem Ley, who just days before his death had spoken out in support of a Global Witness report on corruption in the premier’s family.

Ley was shot dead as he had a morning coffee at a petrol station in Phnom Penh.

“It’s not fair to use that word,” he said with regard to the remarks on autocracy.

"It’s not polite. Those people are not lawyers. If they care about Sam Rainsy, they could send a good lawyer to challenge the court. The prime minister has the right of his own dignity, free from being wrongly accused of being involved with this murder.”

He said the HRF should be more concerned with the current situations in countries like Syria and Iraq.

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