Police arrested labor leader Chhim Sithar for the second time this year, in what domestic and international rights groups and the US State Department condemned as emblematic of the Cambodian government’s harassment and repression of core labor rights. Sithar was arrested returning from a labor conference in Australia on the grounds she had violated the terms of her probation stemming from her previous arrest. Neither Sithar nor her legal team had previously been informed of any conditions of her probation.
The Cambodian government and large employers began increasing pressure on organized labour and activists in 2020 under the guise of coronavirus-related restrictions, and Sithar’s arrest is a further signal that such measures are likely to become permanent.
Prime Minister Hun Sen continued his legal harassment of all domestic political opposition, including the issuing of fines, lengthy sentences, and public threats. Observers credit the long-running crackdown as an attempt by Sen to sideline all opposition before handing over the prime minister’s office to his son, possibly as soon as next year’s elections. Sen has also expanded his efforts beyond Cambodia’s borders, unsuccessfully suing opposition leader Sam Rainsy in a French court.
On 22 September the UN-supported Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia issued its final ruling: rejecting the last appeal of Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan against a life sentence for murder. The tribunal convicted three Khmer Rouge leaders in its 15 years of operation.
Thirty-four members of the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) have been indicted for plotting against the government in what will be the third mass trial of opposition political leaders in three years. The trials are part of a broader campaign of repression of all political opposition that has drawn significant international criticism to Cambodia in recent years.