07/15/2009, 00.00
CAMBODIA
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Opposition and dissidents persecuted in Cambodia, HRW says

The government of Prime Minister Hun Sen systematically uses violence to bolster its power. Nine people, including lawmakers, journalists and human rights activists, have been arrested. An appeal is made to the international community to put pressure on Cambodian authorities.
Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Cambodian government of Prime Minister Hun Sen “should end its campaign of harassment, threats, and unwarranted legal action aimed at consolidating its rule by silencing the political opposition and peaceful critics,” New York-based Human Rights Watch said today.

With the Prime Minister’s backing Cambodian authorities have “lodged at least nine criminal defamation and disinformation complaints against journalists, members of parliament, lawyers and critics of the government since April.”

Two members of Cambodia’s National Assembly were singled out. On 22 June Mu Sochua and Ho Vann of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party lost their parliamentary immunity for allegedly defaming the prime minister and 22 military officials.

On 26 June, a Phnom Penh court sentenced Hang Chakra, owner of the opposition newspaper Khmer Machas Srok, to one year in prison on charges of disinformation after the newspaper published articles on widespread government corruption.

On 14 July, Moeung Sonn, president of the Khmer Civilisation Foundation, was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison on charges of disinformation after he raised concerns about the effect of installation of lights on the Angkor monuments, which are a UNESCO world heritage site.

The UN's human rights office in Cambodia also issued a report warning that the spate of lawsuits against critics could nurture “fear, frustration and anger, with the risk of leading to further conflict and violence,”

HRW calls on international donors, which provide aide and assistance to Cambodia, to put pressure on the government to stop its domestic repression campaign.

“Hun Sen already controls almost every aspect of Cambodia's politics,” HRW’s Adams said. “Yet his efforts to silence dissent seem endless. Why does he seem to wake up every day looking for enemies to persecute? Will this ever end?”

Hun Sen has been Cambodian prime minister since November 1998.

He became paramount leader after Norodom Ranariddh, son of then King Norodom Sihanouk, was forced out of power after a coup.

Hanging over the prime minister are several allegations, including membership in the Khmer Rouges who were responsible for the death of about two million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979 as well as frequent charges of corruption.

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