Cambodia contends with diplomatic sanctions, deportations and prisoner releases

Political prisoners were released prior to the Asia-Europe Meeting summit in Phnom Penh, among other events foreshadowing next year’s elections

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November 27, 2021
Cambodia contends with diplomatic sanctions, deportations and prisoner releases

Hello Globe readers!

Earlier this month new consequences were put in place for Cambodia by the US government, which leveled sanctions against two Cambodian officials and noted that it would review reauthorisation of a preferential trade agreement with the Kingdom. 

In apparent response to the sanctions, six incarcerated environmentalists from activist group Mother Nature were released on bail in November, along with 20 others who have been classified as political prisoners by human rights groups. While the release of the activists was seen as a positive step, Human Rights Watch said there are at least 60 other political prisoners still behind bars.

The prisoner releases coincided with increased international attention on claims of human rights abuses in Cambodia, which assumed the ASEAN chairmanship for 2022 and hosted the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) this week. 

Bookending the events inside Cambodia, Thailand deported two Cambodian activists on 9 November and a third was sent back on 20 November. The UN Refugee Agency expressed dismay at the deportations, claiming the trio were political refugees.

Prior to the deportation of the third activist, a brutal slaying of a young activist was a stain on the usual revelry of Cambodia’s Bon Om Touk (Water Festival) last week. The victim, Sin Khon, had connections to the dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). 

Those who knew Sin Khon, who was living in a pagoda in Phnom Penh when he was stabbed to death over the weekend, branded the murder a politically motivated killing, claiming Khon also had been assaulted earlier this year.

Police released an interrogation video this week in which a young man confessed to the killing and said he stabbed Khon in a dispute over the pagoda keys. But some observers were skeptical given the Kingdom’s history of political assassinations and persecution of CNRP officials. One monk living at the Wat Chas pagoda, who worked with the slain activist, told VOD News the confessed motive was in all likelihood a sham.

Any connection between the events cannot be proven, but all have occurred against the backdrop of looming commune elections next year. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party may be feeling political heat that is leading to increased pressure against opposition figures. 

The Globe this week focused on the stakes of the ASEM summit, including this issue of Cambodia’s human rights violations. Additionally, we have an excellent feature and video on how Khmer traditional artists are preparing to perform again following the country’s re-opening. Check out our feature articles and opinion essays this week.

The pandemic deeply hurt the Cambodian performing arts scene, but artists are preparing for the return of audiences as the Kingdom reopens, Anton L. Delgado reports. Despite challenges due to the loss of funding and tourism, traditional Khmer arts remained resilient and are poised to perform again. 

The hyper-realistic wildlife paintings of Malaysian artist Choo Beng Teong, culminating in his first book, “Birds of Malaysia in Watercolour,” are a testament to his decades observing nature and perfecting his craft, Ashley Yeong reports. Choo is among a dwindling number of wildlife artists in Malaysia, which enjoys one of the world’s most biodiverse habitats. 

French forces launched an attack on the Vietnamese port city of Haiphong in November 1946, which killed 6,000 people and plunged France into a violent entanglement with Vietnam. Stein Tønneson of the Peace Research Institute Oslo explains how the massacre was a bloody example of colonialism and a prelude to the First Indochina War.

Malaysian journalist Dee May Tan was tired of narratives about Asian food she saw as catering to the Global North, so she founded her own food culture magazine, Plates. Huei Ting Cheong reports that since the magazine launched in 2019, Plates has found audiences across six countries, bringing an Asian perspective to Asian foods.   

As Cambodia hosts the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) conference this week, representatives from across the two continents will work to find multilateral approaches on a range of global issues including Covid-19 economic rehabilitation and sustainable economies, writes Christian Echle of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation Singapore.

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