Post-election intimidation of opposition supporters has lessened since an appeal by Second Prime Minister Hun Sen, but an atmosphere of fear and repression still prevails across the country, a new report from Human Rights Watch Asia says.
“The waning of post-election political violence in Cambodia following an appeal by the Second Prime Minister Hun Sen showed that the Cambodian leader did indeed have the power to turn such violence on and off at will,” the US-based group said in a statement released Sunday.
But, the report warned, “fear created by attacks and threats in the immediate post-election period had already done its work, making people in Phnom Penh and outside the capital wary of voicing dissent or supporting opposition organizations.”
Furthermore, it charged, “The fact that the violence has subsided temporarily does nothing to prevent another wave of repression against [opposition supporters] once the international spotlight is lifted.”
Government spokesmen were unavailable to comment Sunday on the content of the report. However, senior CPP and police officials said last week they had uncovered no credible evidence of the alleged intimidation.
Co-Minister of Defense Tea Banh dismissed the claims as “rumors,” while RCAF Chief of Staff Ke Kim Yan called the accusations “an attempt by the losers to discredit the election.”
Despite the apparent decrease in violence since Hun Sen’s Aug 1 televised appeal, Human Rights Watch Asia has documented a number of “ongoing threats and retaliation against opposition members” since the second premier’s statement was distributed by provincial officials.
Several cases involved physical threats and firearms, the report claimed, but in many cases, activists had simply left their village out of fear that they might become the target of reprisals.
The rights group also questioned conclusions drawn by international observers after their positive assessment of the polling process.
“The fact that there was a high voter turnout and few incidents on polling day does not mean that there was a neutral environment,” the report charged. “The entire year preceding election day was marked by political violence, widespread intimidation and murders of opposition members and supporters of Prince Norodom Ranariddh.”