The US said on Monday that it is “concerned by the Cambodian government’s ongoing practice of using baseless, politically motivated charges to harass its citizens, including the recent arrests of several people peacefully remembering the life of Kem Ley”.
“All Cambodians should be able to exercise their rights to express their views freely and assemble peacefully."
“We have consistently urged the Cambodian government to remove undue political restrictions on all persons in Cambodia, release those prisoners who have been arbitrarily or unlawfully detained, and uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms,” said a statement sent to local and international media by the US embassy in Phnom Penh on Monday.
However, the US statement was blasted by ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesperson Sok Eysan, who said there were no restrictions placed on the freedom of expression in the Kingdom.
“This is just their opinion. Their view is politically biased. This is why they have said what they have. There are no restrictions if [people] don’t violate the law,” Eysan said.
Ley, 45, was shot twice with a Glock handgun at a Caltex petrol station cafe on the capital’s Monivong Boulevard in Chamkarmon district’s Tonle Bassac commune on July 10, 2016.
Last week seven people were arrested while marking the third anniversary of the killing of the popular analyst.
Five were later freed while two, Kung Raiya and Suong Neakpaon, were charged with “incitement to commit crimes” and placed in pre-trial detention.
Eysan said Raiya and Neakpaon had been selling political T-shirts and using the anniversary of Ley’s death for political gain.
He also hit out at the US for the recent deportations of Cambodians after serving prison terms in the country.
“We have not done anything arbitrarily or unlawfully. We have acted according to our judicial system. No one walks down the street and is arrested and put in jail without due cause,” Eysan said.
He said the US should not make evaluations based on a political agenda but rather from the reality on the ground.
“The statement is a kind of interference into Cambodia’s internal affairs without clear basis,” Eysan said.
Political analysts Lao Mong Hay said that as a party to the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements and a permanent member of the UN Security Council which endorsed them, the US was simply honouring its obligations under the accords.
This was “to promote and encourage respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cambodia”, he said.
“A reasonable person would not treat this particular US statement as an act of interference into Cambodia’s internal affairs at all,” Mong Hay said.