Cambodia 19/6/18

June 19, 2018

Australia is a nation built on free and fair expression. Without this principle, the very foundation of our nation crumbles. Australia has a long, proud history of working with other nations to improve democratic processes and freedoms. One country we have worked with tirelessly to improve democracy is Cambodia. In 1991, in the aftermath of Pol Pot's dreadful Khmer Rouge regime, Australia played an important stewardship role for the Paris Peace Accords, a key limb of which was to guarantee free and fair elections in Cambodia. Sadly, that commitment has not yet been realised for the Cambodian people. Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodian People's Party have acted to shut down democracy in Cambodia in the lead-up to the general election scheduled for next month. He has dissolved a major opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party, or the CNRP, and imprisoned its leader, Mr Kem Sokha, on ridiculous treason charges over a speech that Mr Sokha delivered here in Australia in 2013. Amid international condemnation, the regime has shut down international NGOs and media organisations, imprisoned Australian documentary maker Mr James Ricketson and has acted to all intents and purposes as a dictatorship. Not only is this a terrifying prospect for the Cambodian people themselves, but it is terrifying for the Australian Cambodian community. The fear and the oppression of dictatorship has followed them like a dark shadow and still casts its pall over the community here in Australia.

The Cambodian community in Adelaide have expressed to me their fear at the infiltration of CPP operatives and Hun Sen allies here in Australia, including in my hometown of Adelaide. Several community members have raised their concerns about the Cambodian Cultural Association, a body incorporated in March 2017. While people of all political persuasions are free to promote their views and celebrate their culture, it appears clear to me from community reports that the Cambodian Cultural Association is little more than a front for Hun Sen. They have no presence in any cultural events nor do they have a website, and their Facebook page, Cambodian Cultural South Australia, has had only five posts since January 2017. Instead, the group seems largely focused on the intimidation of the local Cambodian community. The leaders of the group are reportedly close allies of Hun Sen and regularly travel to and from Cambodia. Photographs posted to social media show them posing with guns, in Cambodian military garb and with CPP representatives, including members of Hun Sen's family. Further, relatives of Hun Sen have moved to the north of Adelaide and have hosted Hun Manet, the son of Hun Sen and a leader of the Cambodian military. Members of the community have also reported to me that membership of this organisation is garnered by bribery and threats against community members' families back in Cambodia.

Many members of the community live in fear and are now afraid to visit their families in Cambodia, believing that these Hun Sen associates would inform on them and the CPP would arrest them or their families. These fears are well founded, especially considering Hun Sen's public and vociferous threats to protesters against his attendance at the recent ASEAN summit that he would 'follow them home'. I've spoken to many brave Cambodian Australians who took part in those protests and now fear what might happen to them if they visit friends and family back in Cambodia out of well-founded fears that the protests here in Australia were monitored by Hun Sen supporters.

Hun Sen has frozen democracy and obliterated due process in Cambodia. CNRP figures languish in Cambodian prisons, like Mr Kem Sokha, or live in exile, like Sam Rainsy and many other CNRP leaders and former MPs. Rachan Bou, the widow of assassinated political figure Kem Ley, was even granted asylum recently in Australia, because of the threat to her and her children's lives under Hun Sen's regime.

Australia must act to protect our stewardship of the peace accords and, importantly, we must also call out to protect our way of life here in Australia. Australians should feel safe, secure and free from intimidation, not still living under the thumb of a dictator.