PHNOM PENH – Germany said on Thursday it has suspended preferential visas for private travel by members of Cambodia’s government, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, following a government crackdown on the opposition.
The visa suspension is the latest action taken against Hun Sen’s government by a Western country following the dissolution of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), Hun Sen’s main rival, by the Supreme Court last year.
The CNRP was dissolved at the request of the ruling party, which had accused the CNRP of plotting to topple the government. The CNRP has denied the charge.
Rights groups say Hun Sen and his allies have escalated intimidation of their opponents ahead of elections this year and accuse them of misusing the justice system to prosecute critics and force independent media outlets to shut.
The European Union said in December it had suspended funding for Cambodia’s 2018 general election because it did not view an election without a main opposition party as legitimate.
A spokeswoman for Germany’s Foreign Office said Germany has suspended preferential visas for Cambodian government members.
“The Foreign Office confirms the suspension of preferential Visa treatment for private travel by Cambodian government members, including by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his family, by high-ranking military officials and the presidents of the highest Cambodian court,” Susanne Beger-Blum, a spokeswoman for Germany’s Federal Foreign Office, told Reuters in an e-mail.
“The Foreign Office also confirms that Germany has encouraged other European Union members to impose similar measures following months of the Cambodian government’s crackdown on media outlets, NGOs and the political opposition,” she said.
CNRP leader Kem Sokha was arrested for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government with US help last year.
He has rejected the accusation as a political ploy.
The US has also denied the allegations and has restricted visa applications to certain Cambodian officials in response to Hun Sen’s crackdown.
Sok Eysan, a spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, said the government had not been notified about Germany’s visa suspension and did not think it was a big deal.
“If we can’t go to Germany, we won’t die,” said Sok Eysan.
By Prak Chan Thul – Reuters
Editing by Thailand’s Amy Sawitta Lefevre