Cambodian government accused of 'alarming' crackdown as newspaper closes

Cambodia Arrests Opposition Leader, Accusing Him of Treason

Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested early Sunday and accused of treason, the latest in a flurry of prosecutions brought against critics and rivals of strongman premier Hun Sen.

Hun Sen was quoted as telling a group of garment factory workers that the "third party" behind the plot was the same as that behind a 1973 coup that is widely believed to have had US support.

The country's tax department announced in early August that the Cambodia Daily, an independent English-language newspaper, owes some $6 million in unpaid tax from 2007 to 2016, and ordered the publisher to pay in full by September 4. Hun Sen, 65, is a former Khmer Rouge soldier who switched sides before it was driven out.

In the video, Kem Sokha said the Americans had hired academics to advise on strategy to change Cambodia's leaders.

Sokha reportedly says in the purported video that "he was trained and received funding from a powerful foreign country to topple the government".

The capture was made after Cambodia's police found a video broadcast by Cambodian Broadcasting Network (CBN) headquartered in Australia and other evidence showing Kem Sokha and his accomplices secretly conspired with foreigners to harm Cambodia.

"And if I follow such a tactic and strategy and if I could not win, I do not know what else to do", he said. It wanted a non-violent approach, it said. He said the next step will be his court appearance to officially face the charges, which carry a prison sentence of 15 to 30 years.

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Kem Sokha's daughter, Monovithya Kem, who is also a member of his embattled Cambodia National Rescue Party, said her father was taken away in handcuffs after a force of between 100 to 200 officers swept his home in a surprise raid.

"These measures undercut Cambodia's progress in recent decades and raise serious questions about the government's ability to organise credible national elections in 2018 which produce an outcome that enjoys democratic legitimacy", said the USA embassy.

Neither the U.S. state department nor the White House responded immediately to a request for comment.

The government also ordered the expulsion of the National Democratic Institute, a pro-democracy nonprofit organization that is loosely affiliated with the Democratic Party of the United States. Earlier in the year, it suspended joint military exercises with the United States, which has voiced fears over the human rights situation.

Last month, Cambodia expelled the Washington-based National Democratic Institute and ordered local radio stations to stop broadcasting reports from the U.S. government-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.

"It's our livelihood, our mission and our passion to put out the news, but it's a small part of what's going on in Cambodia today", said Jodie DeJonge, The Daily's editor in chief.

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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