HONG KONG — The Cambodian government on Friday sued to dissolve the country’s main opposition party, intensifying a crackdown that has drawn widespread condemnation from Western governments.
The action comes just weeks after the government formally charged Kem Sokha, the leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, with treason, accusing him of plotting to overthrow government leaders with the backing of the United States. If convicted, Mr. Kem Sokha could be jailed for up to 30 years.
In moving to dissolve the opposition, government lawyers said the party conspired with foreigners to topple the government, Reuters reported. The lawyers cited as evidence a 2013 video clip that it says showed Mr. Kem Sokha discussing a plan to gain power with American help.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power for 32 years, is preparing for parliamentary elections next year. In 2013, Mr. Kem Sokha’s party stunned the government by nearly winning parliamentary elections, drawing support from young people seeking greater political and social freedom.
In recent weeks, Mr. Hun Sen’s government has ordered at least 15 radio stations to close or stop broadcasting programming from the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, and it has also closed The Cambodia Daily, an independent newspaper, accusing it of nonpayment of taxes. The government also ordered the expulsion of the National Democratic Institute, a pro-democracy, nonprofit organization tied to the Democratic Party of the United States.
The European Union has called the broadening crackdown a “dangerous political escalation” and urged that Mr. Kem Sokha be immediately released. Separately, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said in a statement that he was seriously concerned about breaches of Mr. Kem Sokha’s rights and parliamentary immunity.
The government’s accusation that the opposition was conspiring with the United States comes as it has been increasingly turning on the Western donors that have economically supported the country while pushing Cambodia to stick to democratic reforms. At the same time, Mr. Hun Sen has been showering praise on China as “the rising power that is here to stay in the region.”