Protesters in Brussels Demand Human Rights as Hun Sen Pushes Free Trade

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Hun Sen on December 15, 2022 (Hun Sen’s Facebook page).
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Prime Minister Hun Sen said politics and human rights should not get in the way of an Asean-E.U. free trade deal as at least 100 Cambodian protesters demonstrated in Brussels upon his visit and demanded the release of political prisoners and the protection of human rights.

Hun Sen attended an Asean-E.U. dialogue on Wednesday in Brussels as part of a visit to Europe this week. Afterward, he told a press conference that a potential free-trade deal between the two blocs should not be held up by turmoil in Myanmar or any other political or human rights issue.

“Actually, in relation to human rights, about this issue or that issue — I want to ask, which countries in Asean has the E.U. signed [agreements] with, and what are the human rights there like?” Hun Sen said, suggesting that rights violations had not held back other agreements.

The prime minister added that Asean should place itself on equal footing with Europe. “I hope this point is a reminder for Asean to try to stand up as an equal partner with the E.U.,” he said.

Outside the meeting, Cambodian activists, including opposition politicians in exile, held a demonstration calling for Cambodia to uphold democracy and human rights and release political prisoners.

Videos from the demonstration showed around 100 protesters, but former opposition CNRP lawmaker Men Sothavarin said there were around 200 demonstrators despite snow hampering transport.

He would not elaborate on why former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who called for the protest, was absent, saying only that Rainsy had been in the U.S. for the past two weeks.

“We demand that the European Union bring back democracy to Cambodia … and especially that Cambodia respect human rights, release politicians … and stop abusing people who express themselves,” Sothavarin said, adding that the protesters had submitted a petition on those issues to the E.U.

Activist monk Luon Sovath said he had traveled from Switzerland to Belgium to participate, saying it was his duty as a Cambodian citizen to oppose the suppression of rights.

“I am one monk among hundreds of other monks who are victims, and one Cambodian among millions of Cambodian victims,” he said, adding that some people had decided not to come after Hun Sen threatened their families in a speech on Monday.

Another monk, Bor Bet, said he was worried for his family after Hun Sen’s warning, but still wanted to come to the demonstration.

“If he’s angry, just get angry with me. But don’t get angry with my family. My family hasn’t done anything. They just work on a farm just to make ends meet day by day,” Bet said.

He said the demonstration lasted around two hours with participants from France, Switzerland and Belgium.

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