The arrest and detention of opposition leader Kem Sokha has been over politicised by the international community, an academic has claimed.
Chheang Vannarith of the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies and a visiting fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, said some parties had seized on the CNRP president’s arrest to criticise “Asian” style democracy.
“This arrest is a domestic issue related to the security and sovereignty of Cambodia. Whilst there can be international concern, it has gone overboard to the extent the reason for the arrest and the accusations against him have been overlooked,” he said.
“It has become a case of contesting global values: Western liberal democratic values versus electoral authoritarianism, or as some generalise it, an Asian type of democracy.”
Mr Sokha has been charged with treason over comments made in 2013 video footage from Australia-based CBN news, which showed him saying the US government had been helping him to push for regime change in Cambodia since 1993.
His arrest and detention has drawn strong reactions from the international community, including the US, EU, Australia and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Legal professor Sao Deluxe argued that foreign powers care about their ideals of democracy more than the internal affairs of other countries.
“For poor countries like Cambodia, world leaders do not care about interference,” he said. “Their ultimate goal of democracy may not be compatible with Cambodia’s situation.”
He added that powerful countries make recommendations to developing countries related to democracy, but these suggestions always have security, economic and political objectives.
US Ambassador William Heidt earlier said allegations of the US helping Mr Sokha push for regime change were made without a “shred of serious or credible evidence”.
Prime Minister Hun Sen subsequently called on the US to withdraw Peace Corps volunteers from the country and demanded Mr Heidt clarify Mr Sokha’s claims of US support.
Mr Vannarith warned the row threatens to further damage the relationship between the two countries, suggesting Cambodia and the US should set up a joint working group to discuss their differences. “Both sides need to take a step back and reflect on what went wrong and find ways to restore trust in the relationship,” Mr Vannarith said. “Direct and frank communication will reduce mutual misunderstanding and misjudgement.”
The US earlier this month issued a travel warning for Cambodia and barred top Cambodian officials from non-diplomatic visits to America.
In response to the visa ban, which is part of a row over repatriation of Cambodians with criminal records, Mr Hun Sen suspended cooperation on finding the missing remains of US soldiers.
Mr Sokha’s daughter and senior CNRP official Kem Monovithya posted support for the visa sanctions on Twitter, saying she hoped the UK and Australia would follow suit.
A US State Department official who was asked to comment on the issue said imposing visa sanctions on Cambodia was in response to its repeated failure to issue travel documents for individuals under their final order of removal, or deportation, and as such is not a political issue.
Political commentator Leng Soklong said the visa ban was a warning against breaking the 2002 agreement signed by both countries that allows the repatriation of Cambodians from the United States.
“The US tends to be too clever on this matter. They keep all good people in their country while sending all problematic people to others,” he said.