Cambodia arrests opposition leader for 'treason'

Kem Sokha, the head of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) - which made surprise gains in the 2013 elections - was arrested early Sunday on allegations that he schemed with Washington, a perennial target of Hun Sen's rants.

"The Royal Government of Cambodia informs that according to a video clip broadcast on CBN (Cambodian Broadcasting Network) in Australia and other evidence collected, it clearly shows secret plans of a conspiracy between Kem Sokha, others and foreigners to harm the Kingdom of Cambodia", said a report from government-run media outlet Fresh News.

DeJonge said that The Cambodia Daily had "never taken a penny" from foreign governments or NGOs and just about broke even thanks to advertising, subscriptions and money from Krisher.

"It is the United States".

In the video, Kem Sokha said the Americans had hired academics to advise on strategy to change Cambodia's leaders.

"Freedom of speech is rapidly becoming a highly endangered right in Prime Minister Hun Sen's march down the road to dictatorship in Cambodia", said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of the Human Rights Watch campaign group.

The government released a video on its Facebook page in which Kem Sokha appeared to tell a group of supporters about a strategy to win power which he said had the support of "the Americans", rather than an immediate plot to topple Hun Sen.

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Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party, which has been in power for 32 years, has been accused of targeting critical voices and civil society organizations ahead of elections in 2018. He said the next step will be his court appearance to officially face the charges, which carry a prison sentence of 15 to 30 years. The government also ordered the expulsion of the National Democratic Institute, a pro-democracy, nonprofit organization tied to the Democratic Party of the United States.

The CNRP in a statement on Sunday called for Sokha's immediate release and condemned the arrest of a lawmaker in violation of his constitutional immunity.

"This paper takes special pride in writing about some of the toughest issues", she told Reuters as journalists polished their final articles and office workers packed everything they could into cardboard boxes. Earlier in the year, it suspended joint military exercises with the United States, which has voiced fears over the human rights situation.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the charges against Kem Sokha appeared to be politically motivated.

Some 15 radio stations that air programmes produced by the CNRP, Voice of America and Radio Free Asia were also ordered in August by Cambodian authorities to stop broadcasting.

The newspaper said Monday's edition would be its last and blamed "extra-legal threats by the government to close the Daily, freeze its accounts and prosecute the new owner" for the closure. The arrest came after weeks of political tension following the government's ban in July on references to Sam Rainsy, Sokha's predecessor.

  • Sonia Alvarado