A coalition of international human rights groups on Wednesday issued a petition to press opposition CNRP leader Sam Rainsy and senior members of the government to publicly condemn and investigate the death threats against local rights group leader Ou Virak, following his criticism of comments made by Mr. Rainsy at an opposition demonstration.
Since Mr. Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), issued an open letter on December 12 criticizing the CNRP leadership’s use of anti-Vietnamese rhetoric at opposition rallies, he has received a barrage of online abuse from supporters decrying his stance as traitorous, while CCHR staff have reportedly been threatened with violence, including death threats.
The statement by the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the World Organization Against Torture and the International Federation for Human Rights, calls for an immediate investigation to find those responsible for the intimidation and hold them accountable.
The statement also criticizes Mr. Rainsy for failing to condemn the threats against Mr. Virak.
“Since the publication of this letter, CCHR, and in particular its President Mr. Ou Virak, have received widespread criticism, hate messages and threats, including death threats, via email and social media,” the statement says.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the opposition could not be held responsible for the threats against Mr. Virak and CCHR staff, but his party was nonetheless opposed to any form of intimidation.
“We condemn threats against anyone as it is against the law and the Constitution. It is not acceptable at all,” he said, adding that it is up to the authorities to carry out an investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The extreme response to CCHR’s attempt to monitor human rights and denounce oppression from all sides presents a depressing picture of Cambodian society at present, said Mr. Virak.
“I am not blaming Sam Rainsy or the opposition, but we have learned that people are not always principled and that is a big problem because unless our leaders condemn violence and intimidation it can create a formula for further polarization,” he said.