Former Australian schoolteacher Son Chhay faces criminal defamation over election comments in Cambodia

“They want Son Chhay out of politics. But they cited public defamation as the reason,” he said The Sydney Morning Herald and Age. “Son Chhay told me he will fight to the end and not flee.”

Chhay’s lawyer said that although the Candelight Party does not expect a free and fair election next year, “attendance is a must”.

“If we give up the election, the opposition will completely disintegrate and Cambodia will be led into a dictatorship like North Korea,” he said.

The lawsuit is another example of political intimidation against opposition parties, said Thach Setha, another Candlelight Party vice president who was an MP for the CNRP before it was banned.

He urged the prosecutor to drop the charges, saying they would provoke charges in the international community and have an adverse impact on next year’s national election.

“It’s intimidation. [The National Election Committee] cannot guarantee free and fair elections,” Setha told the Cambodian news site VOD.

The government rejected Chhay’s allegations of electoral bias, and the electoral commission said it was forced to prosecute him to protect his honor.

Former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) activists.

Former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) activists.Recognition:AP

However, the recent indictment of a Cambodian opposition leader follows a well-known pattern of repressing political enemies, either by prosecuting them, fleeing the country for fear of imprisonment, or by banning political activities.

Just last June, 51 CNRP politicians and supporters were sentenced to six to eight years in prison for incitement and conspiracy in what Human Rights Watch called a “show trial.”

The charges against Chhay were formalized less than a year before Cambodia’s next national elections and two weeks after more than two dozen foreign ministers convened for a series of regional meetings in Phnom Penh.

Among them was Australian Penny Wong, who met with Hun Sen and Kem Sokha, the former CNRP leader who is on trial for treason.

In opposition, Labor has criticized the coalition’s approach to dealing with the decay of democracy in Cambodia. After Sokha was brought to justice, Melbourne-based MP Julian Hill said Hun Sen was running a “gangster regime” and the Australian government “must stop hounding him”. In February, Hill also criticized the Morrison government for supporting the creation of a “Farcian” human rights institute, which he said would be used by the Cambodian prime minister as a propaganda tool to build international credibility.

Once in office, however, the Albanian government was more pragmatic, particularly as it expanded into Southeast Asia amid rising geopolitical tensions.

Cambodia is playing an enhanced role in the region this year as ASEAN leader, and the regional envoy to riot-torn Myanmar has asked the junta there to hire Sean Turnell, the Australian economist and adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi, who has since been jailed is to be released days after a military coup in February 2021.

Hun Sen, one of the world’s long-serving prime ministers, has been Cambodia’s leader for 37 years. The 70-year-old has supported one of his sons, Hun Manet, as his successor but does not intend to step down until at least the 2028 general election.

– with Nara Lona and AP

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Joel McCord

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