Cambodian leader vows to resist foreign interference amid crackdown

The prime minister of Cambodia Hun Sen.     Shutterstock

Opposition leader leader Kem Sokha was arrested in a police raid on his home early on Sunday after Hun Sen accused him of treason with the backing of the United States. Kem Sokha has a long, distinguished, and internationally recognized commitment to human rights and peaceful democracy. Sokha is facing charges of treason and espionage under article 443 of the country's Criminal Code, a government statement said. Details of the alleged plot have not been made public.

The party of Kem Sokha, who police detained during a midnight raid on his Phnom Penh home, denied the allegations and said the charges were politically motivated.

Hours after Kem Sokha's arrest on Sunday, the independent Cambodia Daily newspaper announced that it was closing from Monday after 24 years because of the government's demand for millions of dollars in back taxes.

In the video, which the government said was shot in Australia, Mr Kem Sokha said the Americans had hired academics to advise on a strategy to change Cambodia's leaders.

The Daily's editor in chief, Jodie DeJonge, said her staff had been too focused on reporting to "think about what may come next".

A former Khmer Rouge officer who defected, Hun Sen has become one of the world's longest-serving leaders through years of wily political manoeuvring and little tolerance of dissent. If Kem Sokha is found guilty of any offence, it could allow the government to shut the party under a new law.

It marks an escalation in a campaign against any potential threats to Mr Hun Sen's hold on power ahead of an election next year at which Mr Kem Sokha, 64, has been expected to be his main challenger.

CNRP gained strength as the opposition party to the ruling Cambodian People's Party in national elections in July 2013 and in municipal elections in June this year.

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The party called for Kem Sokha's immediate release and urged the worldwide community to "intervene for the release of Kem Sokha".

He urged other nations to put pressure on Mr. Hun Sen. Sam Rainsy remains overseas in self-imposed exile.

The government appeared to have based part of its claims against Kem Sokha on a video clip that shows the opposition leader giving a public speech in which he describes a grassroots political strategy to challenge Hun Sen with USA support.

The arrest of Kem Sokha comes after the government cracked down on NGOs and critical media.

On August 23, the government closed the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a US -funded NGO, and ordered its expatriate staff out of the country.

In August, at least 15 radio stations broadcasting content from Radio Free Asia, Voice of America, Voice of Democracy, and other foreign networks were shut down by the government for "violation of contracts" with the information ministry.

The newspaper said Monday's edition would be its last and blamed "extra-legal threats by the government to close the Daily, freeze its accounts and prosecute the new owner" for the closure.

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