Southeast Asian members of parliament expressed “grave concerns” Thursday over what they called a “worsening human rights situation” in Cambodia, where the government has launched a crackdown on NGOs and independent media outlets ahead of general elections next year.
Since Aug. 22, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government has expelled U.S.-funded NGO the National Democratic Institute (NDI), suspended some 20 radio stations that aired content by U.S. broadcasters Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, and threatened to shutter the English language Cambodia Daily newspaper.
The NDI was accused by government-aligned Fresh News of helping the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) unseat the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) ahead of June commune elections and a general vote scheduled for July 2018, but was kicked out by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for operating while its registration was pending, with the Ministry citing a need to strengthen “national sovereignty.”
The independent Cambodian radio stations, which had broadcast content critical of the government, were suspended on various technicalities for violating their agreements with the Ministry of Information, while the Cambodia Daily—which has also published reports attacking ruling party policies—was recently handed a U.S. $6.3 million tax bill and given until Sept. 4 to pay it or face closure.
In a statement issued Thursday, Association of Southeast Asian Nations Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) chair and Malaysian legislator Charles Santiago called the crackdown a “dramatic escalation of the government’s moves against critical, independent voices,” adding that it had raised questions over the fate of democracy in the country.
“For years now, Cambodia has been defined by a climate of fear, instilled by the ruling party as a tactic for remaining in power,” he said.
“But what has occurred in recent weeks is a legal assault on civic space unlike…