Cambodia is one of the countries that have seen a rapid decline in civic freedoms, according to the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks the latest developments to civic freedoms across 197 countries and territories. Other countries included on the list are Iran, Peru, Sudan, and Zimbabwe.

Repressive laws in Cambodia are routinely misused to restrict civic freedoms and criminalize human rights defenders, trade unionists, youth activists, journalists, opposition politicians, and other critical voices.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has used the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to further tighten his grip on power by enacting a draconian state of emergency law that severely restricts fundamental freedoms.

Human rights groups claim that over 50 political prisoners are currently behind bars in the country, and there are serious concerns about the escalating climate of repression against the opposition ahead of elections in July 2023.

Human rights defenders and activists in Cambodia continue to face repression, with highly politicized courts meaning that those arbitrarily detained and charged are often held for prolonged periods in pre-trial detention.

Press freedom in Cambodia is also at risk, with radio stations and newspapers silenced, newsrooms purged, and journalists prosecuted, leaving the independent media sector devastated.

On 13 February, Hun Sen ordered one of the last independent outlets, the Voice of Democracy (VOD), to be shut down after its license was revoked. CIVICUS researcher for the Asia Pacific, Josef Benedict, stated, “These actions are inconsistent with the country’s international human rights obligations and reinforce our concern about the systematic attack on civic space in the country.”

CIVICUS is also concerned about the ongoing criminalization and threats against the opposition ahead of the general elections, with hundreds of activists and supporters from the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) being arbitrarily arrested and detained, facing politically motivated criminal charges.

The international community has been called upon to do more to halt this assault on democracy and ensure that Cambodians can exercise their political rights without fear.

Cambodia is currently rated as “Repressed” by the CIVICUS Monitor, a rating given to countries where civic space is heavily contested by power holders who impose a combination of legal and practical constraints on the full enjoyment of fundamental rights.

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