Radio Free Asia Cambodian journalists charged with providing information to foreign nation

Autocratic for the People: Cambodia PM Solidifies Power, Challenges Washington

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday challenged the U.S. to cut all aid after it announced it was ending funding for a general election next year in response to the dissolution of the main opposition party, media reported.

Earlier this week, the country's main opposition party, Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was closed down after its leader Kem Sokha was arrested in early September for allegedly conspiring with the United States.

Hun Sen's dominance was challenged in parliamentary elections in 2013, when the newly formed Cambodia National Rescue Party almost pulled off an upset.

This effectively allows the ruling party to run uncontested in next year's polls.

The Cambodian Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the CNRP dissolution and the ban of its 118 senior leaders from politics for five years after its leader Kem Sokha was arrested on September 3 and charged with "treason".

It added that it would pull support for Cambodia's National Election Committee ahead of next years' vote.

Washington joined the European Union in condemning the decision, which follows a months-long crackdown on dissent the country with media outlets shuttered, journalists jailed and activists harassed.

Rights groups said the verdict stripped next year's election of any credibility.

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It also warned that "respect of fundamental human rights is a prerequisite for Cambodia to continue to benefit" from preferential trade terms, such as tariff-free access for clothing and textiles to the world's largest unified customs market.

The ruling capped a protracted clampdown aimed at silencing Hun Sen's political rivals, outspoken NGOS and independent media before an election in 2018.

It nevertheless delivers a crushing blow to the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) - a party that has fought tirelessly to break the authoritarian leader's 32-year grip on power.

The CNRP was accused of a US-backed plot to overthrow the government in allegations which were ridiculed by the United States and NGOs.

On Saturday, Hun Sen appeared to ignore the criticism coming from Western governments.

The CNRP and Washington have rejected those charges as bogus, with the main evidence from the government being a speech from the party's president discussing USA help to build a democracy-movement in Cambodia.

A Cambodian court on Saturday charged two journalists with espionage for filing news reports to a US -funded radio station, which can carry a prison term of up to 15 years.

Washington's influence in Cambodia has waned in recent years, with critics saying Chinese aid and investment have given Hun Sen a free hand to clamp down on freedoms.

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