Cambodians ‘undermining democracy’ to face visa sanctions if travelling to the US

The US asked that Hun Sen’s government reinstate the dissolved CNRP and free its leader from prison, characterising these actions as ‘anti-democratic’

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen waves as he arrives at the Clark International Airport in Pampanga province, the Philippines on 11 November 2017 Photo: Rolex Dela Pena/EPA

Cambodian officials hoping to travel to the US may be in trouble after the Trump administration announced Wednesday it will restrict visas to those found to be ‘undermining democracy’, and simultaneously called upon the Cambodian government to reverse their decision to suppress the nation’s main opposition party.

The State Department said the restriction of ‘those individuals involved in undermining democracy in Cambodia’ was a direct response to recent ‘anti-democratic actions’. The department, however, failed to fully disclose who would be affected. The announcement only mentioned that individuals could be denied entry under a provision of US immigration law if the secretary concludes it would have ‘adverse foreign policy consequences’.

In certain circumstances, family members of these individuals will also be subject to visa sanctions, Voice of America reported.

In a press statement, US spokeswoman Heather Nauert demanded a reinstatement of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was dissolved by the Supreme Court in a ruling last month at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen. Nauert also called for the immediate release of the opposition party’s leader, Kem Sokha, who has been imprisoned since September under allegations of treason.

“We call on the Cambodian government to reverse course by reinstating the political opposition, releasing Kem Sokha, and allowing civil society and media to resume their constitutionally protected activities,” Nauert said in a statement. “The United States is taking concrete steps to respond to the Cambodian Government’s actions that have undermined the country’s progress in advancing democracy and respect for human rights.”

Hun Sen has been the ruling power in the Kingdom for more than three decades and has been keeping a tight hold on his control through various attempts to defuse political opponents and silence critics.

Last month, Cambodia’s Supreme Court outlawed the CNRP and banned more than 100 of the party’s politicians from practising politics. The party stood accused of attempting to topple the government through the support of the US, an accusation that Washington has said is a baseless claim.

Alongside the dissolution of the CNRP, Hun Sen’s government has also increased the restrictions that civil society groups and independent media outlets face in the country.

Exiled Cambodian opposition politician Mu Sochua, a senior leader of the now-dissolved CNRP, has called on other nations to follow in the footsteps of the US and sanction Cambodia’s government, according to the Australian news company ABC.

In a meeting during her visit to Australia on Tuesday, Sochua requested for Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to take a harsher stance when it came to Australia’s disapproval of Cambodia’s latest government actions.

“Expressing concern is not enough because these concerns have been expressed over 25 years,” she said in the meeting, ABC reported. “We are calling for targeted sanctions, which means not issuing visas to high-ranking officials, no scholarships for soldiers coming from Cambodia to Australia, we are calling for the freezing of assets of high-ranking officials coming to Australia.”

The latest condemnation from the US comes after the White House cut funding for the nation’s upcoming national election, reasoning in a statement issued last month that the 2018 election vote ‘will not be legitimate, free or fair’.

The State Department has said they will continue to monitor the situation in the Southeast Asian nation, with Nauert adding they will take “additional steps as necessary”.

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