PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia has canceled the diplomatic passports of some opposition members weeks after a Supreme Court ruling dissolved their political party, senior government officials said on Thursday.
The court outlawed the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) this month at the request of authoritarian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government in a move that prompted the United States to cut election funding and threaten more punitive steps.
Huy Vannak, undersecretary of state at the Interior Ministry, said 56 diplomatic passports of former members of the CNRP had been revoked.
“Legally, they are just ordinary citizens, they are no longer special officials who receive diplomatic passports,” Huy Vannak told Reuters. “They can no longer use them and it means that they can use normal passports.”
The move comes after a warning this week from Hun Sen that former members of the CNRP who have fled to Thailand may be sent back to Cambodia.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan told Reuters on Thursday he was unaware whether there was any attempt to bring back to Cambodia those in hiding in Thailand.
Rights groups and some Western governments have voiced concern over what they say is the deterioration of Cambodia’s political landscape ahead of a 2018 election that had looked set to be the biggest challenge to Hun Sen’s 32-year rule.
CNRP leader Kem Sokha was arrested in September and charged with treason over an alleged plot to take power with American help. Washington has rejected the accusations as baseless.
The Nov. 16 Supreme Court ruling ordered a five-year political ban for 118 members of the CNRP, including Kem Sokha.
The 55 parliamentary seats the CNRP won in the last election in 2013 were allocated to smaller parties after the ruling.
Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Clarence Fernandez