Cambodia lashes out at ‘hypocritical’ EU

The Cambodian government has defended itself against accusations from Europe that it is harassing the opposition and unpopular NGOs. Phnom Penh labelled the accusations “hypocritical”. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The slugfest between the EU and the Cambodian government has gone up a notch. At the end of May, EU officials warned that Pnom Penh is exploiting the internal political crisis to harass opposition groups.  The EU’s delegation to Cambodia said in a letter that it “deeply” regretted the political escalation of the last few days and called for an end to the “legal harassment of opposition leaders and civil society organisations”.

Cambodia’s foreign affairs ministry rejected the EU’s allegations in a statement and accused the bloc’s representatives of lacking the knowledge necessary to understand the South East Asian country’s legal system.

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“These reactions reflect the lack of knowledge or the will to pretend not to know the law,” explained the foreign ministry and claimed that the prevailing legal situation in the country is comparable to other countries, “particularly the European Union”. The “astonishment and outrage” of European critics about Phnom Penh’s behaviour is, therefore, misplaced.

In recent months, a number of civil rights activists and members of the opposition have been detained in Cambodia for offences that international observers have deemed to be politically motivated. The deputy chairman of the opposition party (CNRP), Kem Sokha, is currently facing charges of having an extramarital affair, despite enjoying political immunity from prosecution. Last week he narrowly avoided being arrested for failing to respond to his summons.

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In its statement, the ministry clarified that it has the right to detain someone who repeatedly fails to turn up to court. The allegations of “legal harassment” are therefore completely unfounded. Phnom Penh also expressed its surprise at “such interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state”.

Under certain circumstances, Cambodian law does allow immunity to be stripped from an individual. Lawyers for the opposition, as well as independent legal experts, have accused the government of abusing these exceptions in order to justify a number of detentions made in the last few months.

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