The European Parliament slammed the state of human rights in Cambodia during a plenary session in Strasbourg on Thursday and adopted a resolution that denounced court sentences handed out to opposition party leader Sam Rainsy.
In a statement released on Thursday European members of parliament said that they condemned “all politically motivated sentences against representatives of the opposition and NGOs, in particular those against opposition political leader Sam Rainsy, who has been sentenced to a 12-year prison term.”
Mr Rainsy was sentenced in January to two years in prison for leading a group of villagers to uproot border markers in Svay Rieng province, and in September he was sentenced to an additional 10 years for map forgery and disinformation.
The statement also urged the Cambodian government to “guarantee free political expression, engage in political and institutional reforms and demonstrate their will to combat corruption, massive deforestation and the sex tourism industry.”
According to the resolution adopted by the European Parliament on Thursday “the strategy of Cambodia’s ruling party is to use a politically subservient judiciary to crack down on all government critics.”
The resolution condemned other court decisions made against the opposition, including the August decision by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to convict opposition lawmaker Mu Sochua for defaming the prime minister.
Another case against Hang Chakra, editor of the Khmer Machas Srok newspaper, who in June last year was detained for nine months for having denounced corruption in the entourage of cabinet minister Sok An, was also highlighted as an injustice.
As part of the resolution the European Parliament called for the Cambodian government to combat the “endemic scourges of corruption, massive deforestation resulting in the displacement of people, and the sex tourism industry.”
Calls were also voiced to enable Mr Rainsy to resume his parliamentary activities “as rapidly as possible” as well as for an “emergency humanitarian plan” to be put in place to assist Cambodians who have been most effected by the economic financial crisis.
Officials at the European Commission’s delegation in Cambodia said they were too busy to comment yesterday.
CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, however, welcomed the European Parliament’s attention to Cambodia, but denied claims that Mr Rainsy’s court case had been politically motivated.
“Sam Rainsy’s case is not a political matter. He committed the crime himself,” he said yesterday, adding that he would accept having his parliamentary immunity stripped if he had committed similar acts.
He said that Cambodia was committed to a democratic process through national elections held every five years.
“I don’t understand why Sam Rainsy exaggerates the facts to make the Cambodian government look bad,” Mr Yeap said.
In a telephone call from Paris yesterday, Mr Rainsy said that the resolution adopted by the European Parliament was a sign of the amount of support that the SRP has generated since his exile.
“The resolution was adopted on a unanimous basis. All the political groupings, even the smaller ones joined the draft resolution and they all voted for it,” he said. “Cambodia has many friends from all political groups.”
He also distanced his own battle with Cambodia’s judicial system from being the true subject matter of the resolution adopted by the European Parliament.
“The point is not to allow me to come back. The point is to resolve issues that have… harmed many other cases due to a lack of independent judiciary,” he said. “This is the real issue.”
Ever since Mr Rainsy went into exile late last year, he has attempted on numerous occasions to highlight the poor track record of the ruling party.
In September Mr Rainsy filed criminal complaints with federal prosecutors in New York, accusing Mr Hun Sen of meddling in the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s examination of a 1997 grenade attack at an opposition party rally in Phnom Penh that killed at least 16 people and wounded more than 100, including an American.
He has also made several pleas to the international community to pressure Cambodia to allow his return.