Foreign Affairs Minister Prak Sokhonn sang the praises of his government in a meeting with the ambassador of the E.U. on Tuesday and asked that his delegation give Cambodia a “correct” evaluation, the same day the courts sentenced opposition leader Sam Rainsy to another five years in prison.
The ministry did not explain the reason for the meeting. But the government has previously reached out to foreign missions after controversial court decisions or allegations of serious rights violations to insist that nothing was amiss. The foreign affairs minister also met on Tuesday with the ambassadors of the U.S. and Japan.
After Tuesday’s meeting between Mr. Sokhonn and E.U. Ambassador George Edgar, Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry told reporters that the minister said there was no reason to suspect that Cambodian society was anything but calm.
“There is no sign that the situation in Cambodia is tense,” he said, noting that Cambodians were “working smoothly to make a living by running businesses, building schools and providing entertainment.”
He said Mr. Sokhonn stressed three points: Cambodia’s roughly 7-percent annual economic growth over the past two decades; a recent royal pardon for deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha; and a new memorandum of understanding with the U.N.’s human rights office so it can operate in the country for another two years.
“His Excellency [Mr. Sokhonn] asked that the evaluation of the situation in Cambodia thoroughly consider the three points he mentioned,” Mr. Sounry said. “His Excellency clearly said that His Excellency and the government want a correct evaluation of the situation.”
Before receiving his royal pardon, Mr. Sokha was sentenced to five months in prison for failing to show up as a witness in the prostitution trial of his alleged mistress in a case widely seen as politically motivated. The memorandum with the U.N. rights office was signed after months of fraught negotiations during which the government threatened to kick the office out of the country for what it considered the staff’s “arrogance” and interference in internal affairs for criticizing the recent exile of Mr. Rainsy.
The opposition leader was barred from returning to Cambodia in October, in violation of his constitutional right to come back to the country, while he was living abroad to avoid a two-year prison sentence for defamation.
Local rights group Licadho says there are currently 26 political prisoners in the country, from rights workers to activists and opposition figures, including two CNRP lawmakers. Rights groups say the government is in the midst of a cyclical crackdown on its critics ahead of commune elections next year and critical national elections in 2018, which are expected to be very close.
Contacted by email, Mr. Edgar said he and the minister discussed the country’s political situation, including a recent voter registration drive, but declined to elaborate.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy said the minister and ambassador discussed “a broad range of issues,” but declined to go into details. The Japanese Embassy could not immediately be reached for comment.
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