Saturday, September 26, 2009

Cambodian opposition leader accuses PM of stilling critical voices

(CAAI News Media)

Cambodia's opposition leader Sam Rainsy accused Prime Minister Hun Sen of silencing critical voices in the country in the face of growing discontent among Cambodians induced by the government's corrupt practices and mismanagement of the economy and the effects of the worldwide financial crisis, according to Southeast Asian Press Alliance (Seapa).

Seapa is a regional organisation composed of different media groups suppporting media rights, press freedom and democracy.

Speaking before representatives of the international media in a panel discussion organised by Seapa in cooperation with the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT) in Bangkok on September 23, Sam Rainsy said the Hun Sen administration has launched a crackdown, not only against journalists, but also legislators, civil society officers and even their lawyers.

He said the government's corruption has further weakened the national economy. "Cambodia is losing US$500 million every year to corruption," he said.

Aside from this, Sam Rainsy, who heads the Sam Rainsy Party which in turn controls 26 out of 123 seats in Cambodia's parliament, accused the current government of mismanaging the economy, first selling off natural resources like timber and now leasing forested lands to foreign companies for up to 99 years, with the income allegedly going to corrupt officials' pockets.

Sam Rainsy also alleged that the government is not taking steps to mitigate the effects of the worldwide crisis. It has refused to inject money into the economy, he said, adding that taxes were instead raised, and the interest rates of banks shot up to 3 per cent per month.

To head off the discontent, Sam Rainsy said the Hun Sen government has targeted opposition members of parliament (MPs) and civil society groups, aside from journalists.

On June 26, 2009, Hang Chakra, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Khmer Machas Srok was sentenced to one year in prison. He was tried in absentia, despite the fact that he never fled or left the country. He was also fined 9 million Riel or (about $2250), for "disinformation" and for "dishonouring public officials".

On July 8, charges against of "Moneaksika Khmer" (Khmer

Conscience) newspaper Sam Dith were dropped, after another formal letter of apology (this time addressed to PM Hun Sen) - along with a "voluntary" resolution to cease publication of his newspaper. A year earlier, Sam Dith had been slapped with criminal charges over an article that suggested links between Cambodian foreign minister

Hor Nam Hong and the past Khmer Rouge regime.

On June 22, the National Assembly controlled by the ruling

Cambodia People's Party suspended the parliamentary immunity of two members of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP). The move paved the way for defamation charges brought by PM Hun Sen and the Royal

Cambodian Armed Forces against opposition legislators Mu Sochua and Ho Vann.

Sam Raibnsy added that the government then also went after the oppositionists' lawyers.

Kong Sam Onn, the legal counsel who represented Mu Sochua and Ho Vann, was himself charged with defamation by the Prime Minister. He was also threatened with disbarment. Like the editor Sam Dith, Kong Sam Onn

was forced to apologise to the Prime Minister, and then compelled to join the ruling party, in return for the withdrawal of the case against him.

Duong Hak Sam Rithy, vice president of the Cambodian Association for the protection of Journalists (CAPJ) claimed that some 10 journalists have been killed by government agents. Up to now, he said, police have not yet concluded their investigation in any of the cases.

Asia News Network

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