Cambodia’s Hun Sen Threatens Family Members, Associates of Opposition Protest Leader

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Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday threatened family members of an exiled opposition leader who called for a protest outside China’s embassy in Phnom Penh on Friday, reminding him that his wife and children still live in the capital and could be subject to action by the courts.

Called by exiled Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) parliamentarian Ho Vann, Friday’s protest hit out at what marchers called China’s growing influence and control in its smaller Southeast Asian neighbor, and led to the arrest of three protesters and assaults by security guards on others, including a disabled woman.

Authorities also threatened local journalists, ordering them to delete their videos and pictures, and which a police spokesman described as unauthorized.

Speaking on Monday to a large audience at the launch of a construction project in Phnom Penh, Hun Sen lashed out at Ho Vann for organizing Friday’s protest, held to mark the 29th anniversary of the 1991 Paris Peace Accord, the agreement that ended a war between Cambodia and then occupier Vietnam.

“Ho Vann is a little bit older than me, but I would like to call him contemptible,” Hun Sen said, addressing Ho Vann directly and adding, “You must know that your wife and children are still living in Phnom Penh.”

“Why shouldn’t we take action against your associates in treason living inside the country, when they take their orders from plotters and ringleaders living abroad?” he asked. “It would be entirely lawful for the authorities and the courts to take action [against them].”

Playing a recording in which Ho Vann can be heard encouraging his followers to gather at the embassy and reassuring him that their right to protest is protected under international law, Hun Sen added, “Ho Vann, do you hear your own words?”

“You are a leader of bandits, and we will definitely arrest your subordinates. There is nothing wrong with that,” he said.

Speaking from exile in the United States, Ho Vann confirmed to RFA’s Khmer Service on Monday that it was his voice that was heard on the tape, in which he appeared to offer money to protest participants. He had not ordered anyone to take part in Friday’s protest, though, he said, adding that he had “no influence” to do so.

“They were willing to do this on their own. And you should know that if armed forces were not called in to suppress them, thousands of people—and not just the few who took part–would come forward to join protests like this.”

‘Hun Sen worries too much’

Also threatened by Hun Sen in his speech on Monday was U.S.-based exile CNRP parliamentarian Eng Chhai Eang, whose wife and children also still live in Cambodia, He called Hun Sen a coward, adding that his family had played no role in Friday’s protest at the Chinese Embassy.

“How can protesters like these topple the government?” Eng Chhai Eang asked, also speaking to RFA. “To bring down a government, you have to use weapons and armed force.”

“Look, there was only a small number of people protesting [at the embassy], and their hands were empty. How are they going to bring down a government? Hun Sen worries too much and is arresting people and throwing them into prison for no reason.”

‘Afraid of his own people’

Finland-based political analyst Kim Sok added that most of Cambodia’s people dislike Hun Sen, who is afraid now that if a mass uprising against him breaks out, authorities will not able to control it.

“Hun Sen has dirty hands and is afraid of his own people. And he fears that protests like those that have happened recently in Thailand could be organized by the CNRP against him,” Kim Sok said, referring to daily protests last week in which thousands in Thailand called for regime change, a new constitution, and limits to the power of Thai King Vajiralongkorn.

“So [Hun Sen] has taken preemptive actions to crack down on people’s freedoms of expression and assembly to warn them against standing up,” he said.

Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the opposition CNRP in November 2017, two months after the arrest of its leader Kem Sokha for his role in an alleged scheme to topple Hun Sen.

The ban on the CNRP, along with a wider crackdown on NGOs and the independent media, cleared the way for Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election.

At least 17 CNRP members have been detained in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar Prison since the start of the coronavirus pandemic on charges of “incitement” for comments they made deemed critical of Hun Sen’s leadership.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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