Statement on arrest of Mr Kem Sokha

September 05, 2017

More than 25 years ago the Paris Peace Accords brought to an end some of the most awful periods of genocide and warfare in modern history, particularly in Cambodia. The Paris Peace Accords, in which Australia played such a central role in assistance and support on negotiation, promised three things to the Cambodian people: first and most obviously at the time, peace, but also economic development and, finally, free and fair elections. The Cambodian people are still waiting on the promise of democracy.

I was concerned—indeed, I was distressed—to hear of the arrest over the weekend of the opposition CNRP leader, Mr Kem Sokha, and also the closure of a number of media outlets, particularly The Cambodia Daily, a longstanding English-language newspaper in Cambodia, only 24 or 36 hours later. Mr Sokha took up the leadership of the CNRP only earlier this year after the longstanding opposition leader in Cambodia, Mr Sam Rainsy, took the courageous and honourable decision to resign from the leadership because of the possibility of his party being dissolved or deregistered because of a longstanding defamation conviction over Mr Rainsy that had been thought by many to be politically motivated. I met Mr Sokha when he visited the Khmer temple in Paralowie in my electorate in April this year. He met with a number of Cambodian Australian members of the Adelaide community and spoke passionately about the future of his country.

It is obviously a matter for the Cambodian people to decide whether they choose the CPP, Hun Sen's party, which has ruled Cambodia for the last three decades, or the CNRP to rule Cambodia into the future. But the Cambodian people deserve a free choice. Concern has been expressed very broadly across the world about the conduct of the elections in 2013, the last national elections in Cambodia. The local commune elections that were held in June this year, only a couple of months ago, again had a number of concerns hanging over them, particularly about the ability of opposition parties to engage in political campaigning and political activity. It is critically important that the national elections that are due in the middle of next year deliver on that third promise of democracy to the Cambodian people.

I've been very pleased to see the Australian government express their concern at the arrest of Mr Sokha in the last 24 hours and to see this quote from the Australian government:

We urge Cambodian authorities to handle the matter in an open and transparent manner, and to take all necessary steps to maintain an open democratic space in which all voices can be heard.

These are comments that have been echoed by Labor's foreign affairs spokesperson, Senator Penny Wong. The eyes of the world will be on Cambodia to ensure that this matter is dealt with openly, transparently and with due process.