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Chabot, Lowenthal Condemn Crackdown on Democratic Institutions in Cambodia

For Immediate Release

Washington, September 18, 2017 | comments
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Representatives Steve Chabot (R-OH) and Alan Lowenthal (D-CA), senior members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and co-chairs of the bipartisan Congressional Caucus on Cambodia, sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson today in response to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s worsening attacks on democratic institutions in Cambodia, particularly his arrest of his foremost political rival Mr. Kem Sokha, leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, on groundless charges of treason.

“As someone who cares deeply about democracy in Cambodia, I am concerned that Prime Minister Hun Sen has decided to intensify his long-running campaign to eliminate dissent with the strong arm of the state,” Chabot said. “From the recent crackdown on opposition media sources to the arrest of Mr. Kem Sokha, it is clear that Cambodian democracy has reached a low point. I fear that Cambodia’s leadership is merely paying lip service to democracy as it charts its path toward increasing authoritarianism. Unless these attempts to undermine democracy are stopped immediately and Mr. Kem Sokha is allowed to return to the campaign trail, Cambodia’s upcoming elections cannot be a free or fair contest.”

Chabot and Lowenthal were joined on the letter by the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Representatives Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), as well as Representatives Brad Sherman (D-CA), Niki Tsongas (D-MA), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Nanette Diaz Barragan (D-CA).

The full text of the letter is below:

September 18, 2017

The Honorable Rex W. Tillerson
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Tillerson:

We write to express our grave concern about Prime Minister Hun Sen’s increasingly repressive campaign to uproot democracy from Cambodia. The arrest of Mr. Kem Sokha, leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, the country’s leading opposition party is particular worrying as are the Prime Minister’s recent attempts to eliminate the free press. We are particularly concerned with Mr. Hun Sen’s unfounded allegations that the United States has collaborated with Mr. Kem Sokha to destabilize the country. As senior members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Congressional Caucus on Cambodia, we call on the State Department and United States Embassy in Phnom Penh to continue publicly condemning these unwarranted assaults on Cambodian democracy.

Mr. Kem Sokha’s arrest for treason is particularly worrying since it comes as the latest in a string of recent actions by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s regime to silence his critics. In recent months, Prime Minister Hun Sen has conducted a widespread and systematic crackdown on independent press outlets such as Radio Free Asia and the Voice of America. The forced closure of the non-profit National Democratic Institute is yet another example of the Cambodian government’s efforts to marginalize democratic advancements. Before this year’s elections in June, his government engaged in voter intimidation and threatened civil war. Unfortunately, this behavior fits a wider pattern developed over Prime Minister Hun Sen’s three-decade rule, to use the levers of power to repress the opposition instead of winning a popular mandate.

We are deeply disturbed by this pattern of constitutional abuse by the Cambodian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the CPP. It is even more worrisome as the nation moves into the 2018 general elections, raising doubts whether it will be free and fair. The international community must confront the Hun Sen government about these attempts to curtail the freedoms of the Cambodian people. Cambodians have a right to free and fair elections under their own constitution, and an election free of political intimidation and repression is an important step towards a Cambodia that is a respected partner in the international community.

We urge you to work with our regional allies and the wider international community to use all necessary diplomatic means to compel the Hun Sen government to adhere to democratic norms and the rule of law. Disagreement, party organization, grassroots activism, and political rhetoric do not constitute treason. The marginalization of opposition parties in Cambodia ensures that any upcoming elections will not be free or fair.

Conversations by Ambassador William Heidt with the Hun Sen government need to continue at the highest level of our government. We urge you to address these concerns with Prime Minister Hun Sen and to press the Cambodian government to respect the rights of its own citizens by allowing for freedom of the press and respecting a free and fair election. Cambodia must take these steps if it wishes to seek greater economic and strategic ties with the United States.

We thank you for your attention to this critical and pressing issue. We look forward to working with you to promote democracy and free and fair elections in Cambodia.

Sincerely,

Steve Chabot (R-OH)
Alan Lowenthal (D-CA)
Ed Royce (R-CA)
Eliot L. Engel (D-NY)
Brad Sherman (D-CA)
Niki Tsongas (D-MA)
Zoe Lofgren (D-CA)
Nanette Diaz Barragan (D-CA)

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