PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) – Human Rights Watch criticised the Cambodian government’s latest crackdown on dissent, urging foreign donors Friday to condemn an “escalating wave of abuse” against peaceful protesters.
In the past week, authorities broke up a string of small protests and arrested more than a dozen people, most of whom were convicted in quick trials and sentenced to one-year prison sentences, the New York-based rights group said.
“The Cambodian government’s latest crackdown on peaceful protest makes a mockery of promises of democratic reform,” Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director said in a statement. He called the government’s actions “that of a dictatorship, not a democracy.”
This week’s protests were not directly against the government but raised issues sensitive to the ruling party of Prime Minister Hun Sen, which fared unexpectedly poorly in elections last year. Its majority narrowed in the 123-seat National Assembly, while the opposition boosted its presence of lawmakers to 55, up from 29.
Hun Sen has run Cambodia since 1985 with little tolerance for opposition and a reputation for ruthlessness.
On Monday, authorities arrested seven protesters outside City Hall who were victims of forced land evictions. On Tuesday, security forces arrested four more people calling for the release of those arrested the day before. All were sentenced to one-year in prison on “trumped-up charges” in trials that did not meet international standards, the statement said.
Also arrested separately this week were two opposition party members, Meach Sovannara and Tep Narin, whom authorities have accused of involvement in an “insurrection” in July, when the opposition staged a protest to seek the reopening of a park used for opposition rallies. Both are being held without bail.
Human Rights Watch urged international donors, which make up as much as half of Cambodia’s central government budget, to “publicly condemn this escalating wave of abuse.”