About 300 members of the Cambodian diaspora in the U.S. rallied at United Nations headquarters in New York on Friday, demanding that the Phnom Penh government release political prisoners and implement democratic reforms as Prime Minister Hun Sen was set to address the U.N. General Assembly.
The protesters displayed photos of detained activists from the now-dissolved Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), whose leader Sam Rainsy has been in exile in France, and urged Hun Sen, the country’s long-ruling strongman, to release his grip on power.
“Please respect human rights, release political activists to their freedom, and have free and fair elections in which all parties can participate,” Sam Vathana of Long Beach, California, told RFA when asked what his message was for Hun Sen.
Chun Sothy, a CNRP activist who recently received asylum in the United States, traveled from North Carolina to attend the New York protest, told RFA that he was persecuted in Cambodia and fled to Thailand for three years before coming to the U.S.
“I want Hun Sen to return our positions that he robbed from us. I am a former commune councilor. He robbed 5,007 seats,” Chun Sothy said. “He robbed the wills of more than 3 million people. If Hun Sen loves peace, why did he rob the wills of the people?”
Chun Sothy was referring to Cambodia’s recent communal elections, which opposition activists and civil society groups said was marred by pressure campaigns from Hun Sen’s allies.
“I want to tell the world that Hun Sen is not a leader who was elected. He stole power and we are living under a dictatorial and corrupt regime,” Chun Sothy said.
The prime minister, who has ruled Cambodia for more than three decades, did not schedule any meetings with Cambodians now living in the U.S. while on his trip to the U.S., saying he was too busy. But some of his supporters greeted him at his hotel in New York.
The protest was organized by the Cambodia-Myanmar Group, in opposition to “Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party’s (CPP) decades-long tyrannical rule in the country,” the group said.
It called on Cambodia “to reverse all wrongful convictions and detentions,” including the recent conviction of Cambodian American human rights attorney Seng Theary for conspiracy to commit treason, part of a mass trial largely viewed as part of a broader crackdown on critics of Hun Sen.
Since coming to power in 1985, Hun Sen has consistently targeted opponents to his rule and placed CPP officials in positions of authority nationwide. Parties that challenge his rule are often subjected to investigations, arrests and other forms of harassment by CPP officials and their supporters.
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