In the latest development of Cambodia’s deepest political crisis since the 1997 coup d’etat, 7 opposition MP-elect and one activist, are facing up to 30 years in prison on charges widely held to be politically motivated.
After violence broke out between protesters and security forces on Tuesday 15th of July 2014, the 8 members were arrested and charged with insurrection, intentional violence and obstructing government officials despite no evidence that any of the arrested have ever violated their party’s strict policy of non-violent protest.
Since widespread reports of irregularities in Cambodia’s July 2013 general election, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the country’s only parliamentary opposition, has boycotted parliament. They have also held regular, strictly non-violent demonstrations in Freedom Park, a space designated to exercise the rights of assembly and expression.
On January 4th 2014 the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) closed down and barricaded Freedom Park as part of a violent crackdown on protest and public assembly, in which 5 people were killed and dozens injured by government forces. In spite of this, CNRP politicians have continued to lead peaceful protests against this violation of rights to freedom of peaceful assembly under Cambodia’s Constitution and International Law. International observers and local NGOs have reported that these nonviolent protests have routinely been violently pushed back by armed security forces operating under local Phnom Penh authorities, ultimately leading to the events of July 15th 2014.
Since the eight members (MPs-elect - Mu Sochua, Keo Phirom, Real Camerin, Ho Vann, Men Sothavarin, Long Ry, Nuth Romduol and youth activist Oeun Narith) have been sent to pre-trial detention at Prey Sar Prison, and at least eight more CNRP members and activists have been threatened with arrests. Deputy Opposition Leader Kem Sokha has also been summoned by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for questioning in relation to the unrest.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) sources claim there is no evidence that any of the arrested were involved in the violence but instead adhered to their strict policy of non-violent protest. The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, the United Nations and the US State Department are deeply concerned by the arrests of the eight Cambodian opposition officials. They all condemn the charges against them and have called for their immediate and unconditional release and for political opposition to be allowed to have a free and unhampered voice in the country as part of any democratic society.
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