Analysis: Government picking up police’s blueprint for a ‘colour revolution’ crackdown

Deputy National Police Commissioner Chhay Sinarith speaks on strengthening law enforcement at an event earlier this year in Phnom Penh.
Deputy National Police Commissioner Chhay Sinarith speaks on strengthening law enforcement at an event earlier this year in Phnom Penh. Photo supplied

After the Ministry of Interior filed a complaint with the Supreme Court to dissolve the CNRP earlier this month, the government’s lawyer Ky Tech submitted a set of documents as evidence that the opposition CNRP was involved in a “colour revolution”.

The documents appeared identical to a series of PowerPoint slides that were presented to provincial police chiefs one month earlier in Phnom Penh. Copies of the slides, which lay out the government’s belief that a sprawling web of actors are collaborating to organise and enact regime change in Cambodia, were later obtained by The Post.

In the weeks since their dissemination, these slides have proved to be a manual for the government’s wide-ranging crackdown on a variety of organisations in the country, including the Cambodia National Rescue Party, media outlets, international organisations and foreign embassies. According to one analyst, they also provide a blueprint for future actions that will likely include further repression of civil society and NGOs.

The slides were presented to the provincial police chiefs by Deputy National Police Commissioner Chhay Sinarith, who heads the ministry’s powerful Internal Security Department. He is also a member of the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s powerful Central Committee, and was appointed to the party’s 25-member “propaganda and education committee” in 2015.

Sinarith declined to comment yesterday, referring questions to National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith.

“[Sinarith] had saved information for a long time” before making the slides, Chantharith said, adding it took only “one or two weeks” to put the presentation together.

Deputy National Police Commissioner Chhay Sinarith seen speaking on strengthening law enforcement at an event earlier this year in Phnom Penh.
Deputy National Police Commissioner Chhay Sinarith seen speaking on strengthening law enforcement at an event earlier this year in Phnom Penh. Photo supplied

One of the slides, titled “Structure of Colour Revolution in Cambodia”, features a rudimentary flowchart with a who’s-who list of organisations that have appeared in the government’s crosshairs.

Land rights NGOs Equitable Cambodia and Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, both of which have been singled out for criticism by authorities in recent months, are named as local NGOs involved in revolution. Equitable Cambodia was even slapped with a one-month suspension by the Ministry of Interior related to its advocacy on behalf of villagers locked in a land dispute with a wealthy ruling party senator.

The now-dissolved CNRP also appears on the chart, as do now-shuttered or restricted media outlets such as Voice of Democracy, Voice of America, Radio Free Asia, Sarika FM and FM 105. And international actors who have been closed or criticised also appear, such as the National Democratic Institute – which was expelled from the country – and the US Peace Corps.

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights does not appear in the flowchart, though it is mentioned elsewhere in the slides as the organisation founded by former CNRP President Kem Sokha, who is currently awaiting trial on widely condemned “treason” charges.

Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday declared that the oft-critical NGO “must close”, and the Ministry of Interior is investigating his claims that it served foreign interests.

Provincial police chiefs contacted yesterday confirmed that they had received the documents and disseminated them widely to provincial, district and commune authorities.

“We took [the slides] from the National Police [leaders] . . . This was presented by General Chhay Sinarith,” said Mondulkiri Provincial Police Chief Ouk Samnang, who maintained the documents proved the existence of a treasonous plot organised by CNRP leaders.

“Mondulkiri province is not different than other provinces across the country, and they have disseminated this information too,” he added.

Kandal Provincial Police Chief Eav Chamroeun said that after presenting the slides to his officers, they understood the colour revolution plot “100 percent”. He also accused The Phnom Penh Post of being part of the plot, though the newspaper’s name does not appear in the documents.

“These documents seem to be a very clear indication that the intention is to completely shut down political space in the country in the lead-up to next year’s general election,” said Jonathan Sutton, a researcher on government repression in Southeast Asia at the University of Otago in New Zealand.

Towards the end of the presentation, there is a list of suggestions for authorities to implement in the future. Some echo recently leaked statements by Hun Sen, in which he called for internal party reform and better government services.

Under the subheading “Practical Actions”, the document urges authorities to “try to combat inactiveness of civil servants at every level by having encouragement and sanction policies”, to “gather information related to land and house conflicts” and to “not let the conflicts grow”.

Other directives are more punitive in nature. For example, one clause calls on authorities to “strongly control all foreigners as stated in the immigration law”. Another appears to lend credence to concerns of more actions to come, calling on officials to “strengthen the implementation of Lango [the Law on Associations and NGOs] and Political [Parties] Law by taking serious action against illegal activities”.

Both pieces of legislation have been widely criticised – Lango for granting the government authority to restrict NGOs that are not “neutral”, and the recently amended Political Parties Law for crippling the CNRP ahead of its dissolution.

“This implies that the attacks on civil society will not just be limited to the CNRP and a few other organisations,” Sutton said yesterday.

“I would not be at all surprised to see this crackdown continuing for some time, until the only functioning organisations left are those which are completely subservient to the CPP.”