Cambodian government accused of 'alarming' crackdown as newspaper closes

Kem Sokha in white shirt being escorted away by police officials. Fresh News

The government released a video on its Facebook page in which Kem Sokha appeared to tell a group of supporters about a strategy to win power which he said had the support of "the Americans" rather than an immediate plot to topple Hun Sen. "And after 24 years one month and 15 days, the Cambodian government has destroyed The Cambodia Daily, a special and singular part Cambodia's free press".

In a video clip released by the government purporting to show Sokha speaking to supporters in Australia some years ago, the CNRP president says he was told by USA representatives that in a democratic society change must come from below.

The Cambodian Government described the above act as treason and espionage and said the court will handle this case according to the country's regulations.

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

In a Twitter post, Kem Sokha's daughter Kem Monovithya said her father was handcuffed and "taken away by 100-200 police without warrant after they raided his home".

Interior Ministry spokesman Gen. Khieu Sopheak said Kem Sokha was being held at the Tropeang Phlong prison facility in Tbuong Khmum province, some 130 kilometers (80 miles) east of Phnom Penh. If Kem Sokha is found guilty of any offence, it could allow the government to shut the party under a new law.

He urged other nations to put pressure on Mr. Hun Sen.

Sam Rainsy lives in exile in France to avoid a defamation conviction he says was politically motivated. Hun Sen also warned the USA and other foreign countries not to interfere in Cambodian politics.

The Cambodia Daily newspaper, which published its last edition on Monday, said it had been forced to close after being given one month to pay a crippling $6.3 million in back taxes.

The opposition party lost to Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party in local elections in June, but it did well enough to increase expectations of a close contest in the 2018 vote.

Hun Sen has attacked his political foes with amendments to election and party laws, judicial maneuvers, arbitrary law enforcement, and hefty tax bills.

Its final headline, on the arrest of Kem Sokha, was "Descent Into Outright Dictatorship".

Last week the USA expressed "deep concern" over the state of Cambodia's democracy after the government there ordered out an American NGO and pursued a crackdown on independent media.

The Daily says it has been operating at a loss since 2008 and that the government's figure is wildly inflated.

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.

After "24 years and 15 days of journalistic activities" the newspaper said it will publish its last print edition on September 4, but will keep its website with all past articles online from a server located in a foreign country for the foreseeable future.

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