Cambodia Returns to a Nightmare

Over recent weeks, the situation in Cambodia has turned nasty beyond words. The man in charge, Hun Sen, as been in power for 33 years, rising to the Premiership in 1985 at the age of 32. Now the country’s president, he is 65 years old and swears he wll stay in power for at least another10 years.

In recent weeks, fearing general elections that must be held on July 29, he has implemented a reign of terror, assuming totalitarian power, jailing opposition politicians, activists and human rights workers, shutting down what had been a nominally free press and maintaining a personal guard that is believed to rival in strength the country’s army.

I have not been able to tell you about the actions here. But almost all the opposition people are in exile after the man in charge swooped down on them in recent weeks. Kem Sokha, the No 2 man in the opposition, is in a terrible jail near the Vietnamese border with Cambodia.

The leader of the opposition, Sam Rainsy, is in Paris as a return to Phnom Penh would be bad for him – very bad. Mu Sochua, a former politician and rights activist who was member of parliament from 1998 to 2003, whose opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party was ordered disbanded, is traveling in Europe, making speeches about the situation., But that is all the opposition can do although she has shown great strength in recent times.

Mu Sochua

The people in charge seemingly would stoop to anything. Hun Sen says things like if people stand up to him ‘they will have to prepare their coffins.’ Stunningly, on Feb. 8, the military junta in Thailand forcibly returned Sam Sokha, a labor activist who threw a sandal at a photo of Nun Sen in April last year, where she is likely to face a prison term for expressing her political views. Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations have expressed their concern and demanded that she be released, but that is certain to be ignored by the Cambodian government.

Sam Sokha

There are numbers of foreigners in prison, and the American embassy is being treated with insulting disdain. People have been killed during the past years but no one now is able to stand up for fear of violence or death.

Nowadays people have not made any demonstrations over the disbandment of the opposition. After all, Hun Sen controls everything from the army to the police, the television and all other media.

Some foreign journalists are no longer filing anything. Some young foreign journalists say they are ‘frightened,’ and they can’t write anything. In fact, I don’t know any who are now writing with a byline from Cambodia.

Some 3,000 so-called “journalists” were recently received by Hun Sen but the so-called journalists were not known to others within the regular journalist community in Phnom Penh.

Journalists who have approached Hun Sen to ask him a question are answered with a snarl. When King Norodom Sihanouk died over five years ago, Hun Sen was asked at the cremation what he thought of the late King Sihanouk and what the monarch had contributed to Cambodia but this also was answered with a searing retort.

Hun Sen boasted he himself had set Sihanouk’s body on fire ahead of all others at the ceremony. From 30 yards away, I saw King Sihanouk’s body on fire, and later a man handed me a little pasty substance which he said was part of the king. I hastily returned it to the man. I would like to remember Sihanouk as he was as king, full of jokes and life. Such things have disappeared now in Cambodia.

Few stories are written even by people outside Cambodia these days as Hun Sen has been in power so long that the story is no longer hot news.

The writer of this is a Cambodia-based journalist who fears for his safety.