Cambodian Dissidents Sentenced as Crackdown Continues

In a move that signals a significant escalation in the Cambodian government’s crackdown on the outlawed opposition party and dissent, a court has sentenced seven of its former officials for “plotting” in a case linked to their support of the unsuccessful return of self-exiled opposition figure Sam Rainsy in November 2019.The Tbong Khmum Provincial Court sentenced five former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) officials to seven years in prison on Tuesday. Two of the dissidents were sentenced to five years. Family members of the defendants and the media were banned from the court proceedings, said Am Sam Ath, deputy director of FILE – Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, left, talks with dissolved main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Kem Sokha at the mourning ceremony for Sen’s mother in-law, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 5, 2020.The result was Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won every seat in the 2018 National Assembly and a crackdown on opposition.Sam Sokong, the defense attorney, said more than 200 people have been arrested, charged and jailed for “plotting.”Soeng Senkaruna, a spokesman for the Cambodian human rights group FILE – European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.The European Union’s European External Action Service (EEAS) said last week that there had not been “any indication of substantive progress” in its call for Cambodia to open up the country’s political space for a “credible and democratic opposition to operate.”“The EU is seriously concerned about the continuous deterioration of democracy and human rights in the country,” EEAS spokesperson Nabila Massrali told VOA Khmer.Phil Robertson, deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, in an email to VOA Khmer, said, “Cambodian human rights and democracy advocates are facing [a] concerted onslaught of political persecution that seeks to transform Cambodia from what was supposed to be a multiparty democracy into a ruthless, one-party dictatorship.”“The country’s kangaroo courts are operating hand-in-hand with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party to sling activists into prison, like we saw Tbong Khmum just the other day, as judges don’t even make a pretense of a fair and public trial. Even basic civil and political liberties, like expressing views on Facebook or holding a peaceful, public vigil outside a courthouse, are being threatened,” he said.Robertson added, “Hun Sen thinks the international community is so distracted by COVID-19 [the disease caused by the coronavirus] that they will not say anything.”’Very unfair’Speaking from an undisclosed location, Yem Vanneth, 27, a former commune councilor and CNRP member, told VOA Khmer she was the defendant sentenced in absentia to seven years in prison. She said the government wants to intimidate and silence Cambodians who support Sam Rainsy’s return to Cambodia.“It is very unfair and unacceptable for us,” she said. “It is to intimidate me and to threaten other people who want to welcome Sam Rainsy.”Vann Sophat, a former CNRP district councilor who was outside the court on Tuesday, told VOA Khmer that the six other convicted individuals were Kong Sam Ann, Chak Hour, Mean La, Vann Sophat, Sim Seakleng and Chim Vannak.Vann Sophat added that Chim Vannak, a former CNRP activist, has joined the ruling CPP and was given a suspended sentence.Muy Ly, whose father, Kong Sam Ann, was convicted Tuesday, said the former Memot district councilor had been arrested earlier this month and sentenced to seven years in prison on Tuesday.Muy Ly said she didn’t know where her father would be imprisoned because the charges were filed in Phnom Penh, but the trial was conducted outside the capital in Tbong Khmum province. VOA Khmer could not reach Hak Seaklim, a Tbong Khmum provincial spokesperson, for comment.Chin Malin, spokesperson for Cambodia’s Justice Ministry, said the court had “enough evidence” to prosecute and supported the convictions.“It is not related to the [CNRP] leaders,” Chin Malin said. “It is related to those people’s actual activities, which have criminal elements.”FILE – Kem Sokha, former leader of the now-banned Cambodia National Rescue Party, speaks to reporters as he departs his residence, Jan. 15, 2020.Growing nervousnessTuesday’s convictions have increased the anxiety among the family members of former CNRP members, as has Hun Sen’s suggestion that the prolonged and often delayed treason trial against opposition leader Kem Sokha could be delayed until 2024, according to the government-aligned newspaper Khmer Times. That is well beyond scheduled local and national elections in 2022 and 2023.Cindy Cao, who researches EU-Cambodian relations at the Brussels-based European Institute of Asian Studies, said in an email to VOA Khmer that the recent series of arrests and Hun Sen’s remarks on the Kem Sokha trial reflected Phnom Penh’s “consistent defiance” of the EU’s efforts encouraging democracy.She suggested the Cambodian government was likely balancing political concessions it was comfortable with and the economic cost of its continued crackdown, the latter likely resulting in domestic unrest.“Many studies suggest that authoritarian states would prefer to pay an economic cost, rather than imperil its regime survival,” Cao said.Cambodian government spokesperson Phay Siphan repeated the regime’s defense of its actions, which is to maintain the country’s sovereignty. He added that the current clampdown was unrelated to the EBA revocation.“Cambodia prioritizes peace and the absence of chaos in society because Cambodia is an underdeveloped country – not as [rich as] the EU – so the arrests and the crackdowns are to ensure harmonious living conditions,” he said.Aun Chhengpor contributed to this report.

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3 Arrests, Little Violence at Far-Right Group’s Portland Rally

Three people were arrested Saturday at a right-wing rally in Portland, Oregon, the city’s police said, adding that they also were investigating one assault.The rally attracted several hundred people, far short of the crowd of 10,000 that organizers had expected. The rally began at noon and was mostly over by 3 p.m. The Oregon Department of Transportation closed an interstate briefly.”The purpose of this closure was to clear some people out of the area who wanted to leave and to keep competing groups separate,” Chris Liedle, a spokesperson with the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office, said in updates posted on Twitter.The three arrests included a man suspected of driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol and a woman with an outstanding arrest warrant, Liedle said.The rally, in support of President Donald Trump and his campaign for reelection, was organized by the Proud Boys, a self-described “Western chauvinist” group that the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as a hate group.The group described the rally as a free-speech event to support Trump and the police and to restore law and order. Trump’s campaign has featured criticism of sometimes-violent protests over a series of incidents involving police treatment of Black people, including this week’s decision not to charge white police officers in Kentucky who fatally shot a Black woman, Breonna Taylor.“We the PEOPLE are tired of incompetent city leadership who neuters police and allows violent gangs or rioting felons to run the streets, burn buildings … and assault people with impunity,” the group wrote in an application to the city for a permit to hold the rally. City officials denied the permit, citing coronavirus concerns.The White House has not commented on the rally in Portland, where nightly protests against racism and police brutality — now nearing a fifth month — have taken place in the wake of several recent police incidents. Trump has labeled the city, however, as an “anarchist jurisdiction” where leaders are incompetent, and lawlessness is unchecked.Oregon Governor Kate Brown declared a state of emergency Friday and activated state troopers to assist Portland police and said about 50 crowd-control officers would be deputized as federal marshals in response to that rally and another rally planned by left-wing demonstrators at the same time.A Trump supporter was shot and killed in Portland last month after some vehicles in a pro-Trump caravan encountered left-wing activists. Law enforcement officers killed the suspect, a self-described anti-fascist, the following week as they tried to arrest him in Washington state. 

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In Leaders’ UN Videos, Backgrounds Tell Stories, Too

Chinese President Xi Jinping urged the world to “reject attempts to build blocks to keep others out” as an image of his country’s storied Great Wall hung behind him. Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte used photos and videos to illustrate what he was talking about. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison shared his policy views — and his scenic view of Sydney Harbor.If the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting of national leaders is always a window on the world, this year the window is opening directly onto their desks, presidential palaces and homelands.Staying home because of the coronavirus pandemic, they are speaking by video, adding a new layer of imagemaking to the messages and personas they seek to project.”They have to be authentic, they have to be believable, and this is even more of a challenge virtually. But it need not be, if you’re able to think about how to use your background creatively,” said Steven D. Cohen, a Johns Hopkins University business communication professor who has coached politicians.”They can use what happens in the frame to complement those messages, to break through the glass of the computer and connect through stories, through visions,” he said.The General Assembly hall’s podium has provided decades of presidents, prime ministers and monarchs with a coveted portrait of statesmanship — and a setting conducive to it. While it’s no secret that many speeches are aimed largely at domestic audiences, sideline encounters and the prospect of live reactions from the international community can be “a factor for nudging people into what multilateral diplomacy is all about: finding common cause,” said Richard Ponzio, a former U.S. State Department and U.N. official and now a fellow at the Stimson Center, a foreign policy think tank.TV-style chyronsOthers enhanced their presentations with subtitles or even cable-news-style chyrons, like “HOW WE CAN BUILD A BETTER FUTURE FOR ALL” and “WE MUST LEAVE NO ONE BEHIND” to underscore key messages from eSwatini’s prime minister, Ambrose Mandvulo Dlamini.Duterte overlaid parts of his speech with relevant photos and videos of coronavirus test centers, storms and more, going well beyond the maps and pictures that leaders occasionally hold up at the assembly podium.Without the hall, some speakers opted for a more approachable posture. Pope Francis, for example, eschewed a podium to stand close to the camera in a bookcase-lined room, as though speaking to a visitor.Many leaders sat at desks, sometimes giving the world a glimpse of personal photos, stacks of books and other presumably carefully curated workaday items, including a coffee cup for Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.Speaking from a desk connotes being “friendly, conversational, trying to connect with people,” said Jim Bennett, executive director of the Virtual Meetings and Events Association, an event planners’ clearinghouse. But desks — especially large ones — also can signal authority.Morrison chose an even more conversational setting: a sunny spot overlooking the city’s famous harbor and opera house, with boats passing in the background. Morrison, who has complained in the past about international institutions bossing countries around, called the virus a reminder of the importance of multinational cooperation, though he added that international institutions need to be “accountable to the sovereign states that form them.”Cheer from FijiFiji’s prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, had a crowd in the background of his speech for a special session on the U.N.’s 75th anniversary. After his remarks highlighting Fiji’s role in peacekeeping missions and ocean preservation efforts, he and the spectators gave the U.N. a birthday cheer.To be sure, many leaders spoke the traditional visual language of political speechmaking, flanked by flags with TV-friendly plain backdrops. Many others appeared in well-appointed offices and ceremonial rooms that could provide plenty of fodder for the decor-ranking  that took flight online this spring as the pandemic forced TV commentators and other public figures to work from home. Kausea Natano, the prime minister of the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, gave the global audience a picture of its tropical shore.For heads of state, of course, a backdrop often speaks to more than individual taste.Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis spoke against a panorama of the Acropolis and the Parthenon. The prime minister of Mauritius, Pravind Jugnauth, seized on the chance to mark his country’s claim in a territorial dispute, appearing in front of a map that showed the British-controlled Chagos Islands as part of Mauritius while discussing the countries’ long-running disagreement over the archipelago.Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro speaks virtually during the 75th annual U.N. General Assembly, from Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Sept. 23, 2020.Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro spoke  before a large portrait of 19th-century South American independence leader Simón Bolivar and invoked him while lashing out at the United States, which doesn’t recognize Maduro as Venezuela’s president.U.S. President Donald Trump, for his part, used the White House diplomatic reception room to film an uncommonly brief address  focused on criticizing China.Palau’s president, for one, used his video to send a more up-close-and-personal message. in his final U.N. speech after serving as the Pacific island nation’s leader for 16 of the last 20 years.With some points of pride in the background — a U.N. environmental award and baseball and basketball trophies from teams on which he played — and a bright pink polo shirt instead of the dark suits he wore to the assembly rostrum over the years, Tommy E. Remengesau Jr. reflected on what the group has and hasn’t tackled since he first addressed it in the wake of the September 11 terror attacks in 2001.”My message then was one of unity,” he said, and “this call remains apt today.”

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Tornado Spins Along Beach in South Carolina

A tornado spun along the beach in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, tossing up umbrellas and sand, Friday, September 25. Stefanie Settlemire who was with her family at the Grande Cayman Resort filmed the tornado. “It lifted up umbrellas and chairs from the beach and resorts and tossed them all over the beach. It was so crazy to watch!” Settlemire said in a message to Reuters. The National Weather Service for Wilmington, North Carolina, has since sent tornado warnings for Marietta, Boardman and Proctorville in North Carolina and Latta and Floydale in South Carolina on Friday evening. (Reuters)  

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US Imposes Curbs on Exports by China’s Top Chipmaker SMIC

SHANGHAI/WASHINGTON — The United States government has imposed restrictions on exports to China’s biggest silicon chip maker after concluding there is an “unacceptable risk” that equipment supplied to it could be used for military purposes.
 
Suppliers of certain equipment to Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (SMIC) will now have to apply for individual export licenses, according to a letter from the Commerce Department dated Friday and seen by Reuters.
 
SMIC becomes the second leading Chinese technology company to face U.S. trade curbs after telecoms giant Huawei Technologies, whose access to high-end chips has been curtailed by its addition to a so-called entity list.
 
The Pentagon said earlier this month that it was weighing blacklisting SMIC, which the U.S. authorities have identified as a threat due to an alleged “fusion” of civilian and military technologies.
 
Asked for comment, SMIC said it had not received any official notice of the restrictions and said it has no ties with the Chinese military.
 
“SMIC reiterates that it manufactures semiconductors and provides services solely for civilian and commercial end-users and end-uses,” SMIC said.
 
“The Company has no relationship with the Chinese military and does not manufacture for any military end-users or end-uses.”
 
The Commerce Department declined on Saturday to comment specifically on SMIC, but said its Bureau of Industry and security was “constantly monitoring and assessing any potential threats to U.S. national security and foreign policy interests.”
 

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Young Afghan Woman Aces University Entrance Exams

A young woman, who survived a deadly Islamic State-plotted suicide bombing in Afghanistan two years ago, is being celebrated locally and internationally for securing the top position in the war-torn country’s national university entrance exams.
 
Shamsia Alizada, the 18-year-old daughter of an Afghan coal miner, sat in the exam this year along with more than 170,000 other students and earned the highest score, the education ministry announced Thursday.ممنون همه شما عزیزانم. ❤️ pic.twitter.com/5xx17lSIU9— Shamsea Nasim Alizada (@NasimShamsia) September 26, 2020Alizada, who wants to become a medical doctor, told VOA’s Afghan service her aim “is to try to bring change and serve” Afghanistan, an impoverished country of about 35 million people, where receiving an education remains a major challenge for girls and women.
 
“My goal will be to prepare myself to become even the president [of the country],” she vowed.
 
The United Nations estimates about 2.2 million Afghan girls are not receiving an education in school, and fewer than 30% of women are literate.  
 
Alizada was attending a tutoring academy in Kabul when a suicide bomber in August 2018 stormed the lecture hall and detonated explosives strapped to his body. The ensuing blast, claimed by the Afghan branch of Islamic State, killed at least 40 students and wounded many more.  
 
Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai said in a statement the success of Alizada and other young people in the exam is a sign of “hope for a bright future in Afghanistan”
 
The acting U.S. ambassador to Kabul offered his “enthusiastic congratulations” to Alizada.  
 
“Your brilliance and grit are undeniable, just as your accomplishments underscore how much progress #Afghanistan has made over two decades,” tweeted Ross Wilson, the U.S. charge d’affaires.I want to offer an enthusiastic congratulations to #Shamsia! Your brilliance and grit are undeniable, just as your accomplishments underscore how much progress #Afghanistan has made over two decades. Women’s education, inclusion, & representation are essential to peace. https://t.co/0vWckQ8sdm— Chargé d’Affaires Ross Wilson (@USAmbKabul) September 25, 2020Wilson noted women’s education, inclusion and representation are essential to Afghan peace.
 
The remarkable achievement of Alizada comes as a Kabul government negotiating team is holding talks with the Taliban in Qatar to seek a political settlement to Afghanistan’s four decades of war. 
The Islamist insurgent group had barred Afghan girls and women from schools and outdoor work in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001.
 
“Congratulations Shamsia Alizada in Afghanistan. Women everywhere have the grit & determination to rise up to all challenges,” tweeted Shireen Mazari, neighboring Pakistan’s minister for human rights. Congratulations Shamsia Alizada in Afghanistan. Women everywhere have the grit & determination to rise up to all challenges. https://t.co/nXaukl8mmW— Shireen Mazari (@ShireenMazari1) September 26, 2020Kabul’s bombed Mawoud Educational Center was offering free education to top position holders from underprivileged families, Alizada said. She recalled that one of her friends also was among those killed in the deadly attack.  
 
“It’s very painful when young people are getting martyred. Rohaila was also a first position holder in our school, and she was expected to get first position in the exam. Sadly, she is dead now with all her dreams,” Alizada told the local Kabul News outlet.  
 
The Afghan peace talks are a product of the deal U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration signed with the Taliban in February to close out the war in Afghanistan.  
 
During a congressional hearing Tuesday, Democratic lawmakers accused the Trump administration of jeopardizing the rights of Afghan women in pursuit of the troop withdrawal from the country.  
 
U.S. Special Envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who signed the deal with the Taliban, dismissed those concerns and assured lawmakers that human rights, especially women’s rights, were a top priority for Washington.  
 
Khalilzad acknowledged, however, the country’s political future would be determined by the intra-Afghan talks underway in Doha, the Qatari capital.  
 
“At this hearing, I want to assure the Afghan women that we will be with them,” the Afghan-born veteran diplomat said. 

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Lebanon’s Prime Minister-Designate Resigns

Lebanon’s prime minister-designate has stepped down.Moustapha Adib has been unable to form a new government to replace the government that resigned after the deadly massive explosion in Beirut’s port last month.On Saturday, Adib said in a televised speech, “I apologize for not being able to continue the task of forming the government.”He has been in lengthy negotiations with the country’s various political factions, but they were unable to reach a consensus.

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S. Korea Urges North to Further Investigate Death of Fisheries Official

South Korea said on Saturday it is demanding the North further investigate the killing of a South Korean fisheries official and suggested the two countries undertake a joint probe into the shooting incident.”We have decided to demand the North carry out a further probe and request a joint investigation if necessary,” South Korea’s presidential office said in a statement after a National Security Council meeting late Friday.South Korea will continue its own investigation because of “discrepancies” in the explanations the North has provided about the shooting, the statement said.The South’s main opposition People Power Party said Saturday that Kim’s apology was not genuine. It called on President Moon Jae-in’s government to present the case to the International Criminal Court and the U.N. Security Council.North Korean leader Kim Jong Un offered a rare public apology Friday after the killing of the South’s civilian official near the countries’ disputed sea border.South Korea’s military on Thursday accused North Korean forces of shooting and cremating the official, who Seoul believes may have been trying to defect to the North.According to a statement announced by South Korea’s presidential office, Kim is “greatly sorry” for disappointing South Koreans over the incident. The statement said the death was “unsavory” and “should not have happened.”The 47-year-old went missing Monday from his patrol boat about 10 kilometers south of the de facto inter-Korean border. Seoul officials suspect the man, who had reportedly struggled with debt and other personal issues, jumped overboard with a flotation device.After being intercepted at sea by North Korean troops, the man was questioned, shot to death, doused with oil, and set on fire, apparently all on orders from a superior, according to the South Korean military’s version of events.North Korea gave a different account. It says the border troops, following anti-coronavirus guidelines, fired 10 gunshots at the man from a distance. When they approached his flotation device, they found only blood. They then set the floating device on fire, the statement said.Rare apologyNorth Korea’s apology was delivered to Seoul by the North’s United Front Department, a ruling party body that handles inter-Korean ties. The letter expressed hope that “trust and relations” between the two Koreas will not be hurt.It is extremely rare for North Korea to apologize. Following some past killings of South Korean civilians, the North expressed “regret,” often later blaming Seoul for the incidents.With Kim’s apparent apology, the risk of escalation has been reduced, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. He says the killing could have led to “tit-for-tat violations” of a military agreement meant to reduce tensions along the frontier.“The shooting incident was also turning South Korean public opinion against offering peace and humanitarian assistance to Pyongyang. Kim’s diplomatic move avoids a potential fight in the short-term and preserves the option of reaping longer-term benefits from Seoul,” he added.The shooting incident is awkwardly timed for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who this week used a video speech at the United Nations General Assembly to call for an end-of-war declaration between North and South Korea. He also called for coronavirus-related cooperation.The left-leaning Moon, who wants to improve ties with Pyongyang before he leaves office in 2022, has been trying to convince the North to return to the dialogue and cooperation that marked the beginning of his five-year term.Moon-Kim lettersSouth Korea on Friday revealed that Kim recently exchanged letters with Moon, the first known recent dialogue between the two leaders.In a letter dated September 12, Kim expressed sympathies for South Koreans battling the coronavirus, as well as recent typhoons.“I sincerely wish for everyone’s well-being,” Kim said in the letter, which was released in full by the South Korean Blue House. Moon had sent Kim a message on September 8, according to Seoul.Earlier this year, North Korea cut communications channels with the South and blew up the two countries’ de facto embassy after complaining about South Korean activists who launched balloons filled with anti-Pyongyang propaganda across the border.In June, Kim unexpectedly called off the pressure campaign. Since then, North Korea has been primarily focused on domestic issues, such as the coronavirus pandemic and devastating floods.Coronavirus lockdownNorth Korea has since issued “shoot-to-kill” orders to prevent the coronavirus from entering the country from China, the top U.S. commander in South Korea, General Robert Abrams, said earlier this month.The coronavirus-related security zones were first reported by the Daily NK, a Seoul-based news website with sources in North Korea. The outlet said the new rules stipulated that anyone “breaking rules or disrupting public order near the border will be shot without warning.” The rules apply to all areas of the country, it said.“North Korea is locked down almost as in a wartime situation to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.North Korea for months said it had no coronavirus infections, but eventually backed away from that assertion.In July, a 24-year-old man who had fled North Korea swam back into the country, after being accused of rape in South Korea. That incident prompted the North to lock down a border area, ostensibly because of coronavirus concerns.

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At Least 22 Die in Ukraine Plane Crash

A Ukrainian military plane crashed and burst into flames on Friday evening, killing at least 22 people on board, authorities said.The aircraft crashed while trying to land at Chuhuiv’s airport in the Kharkiv region, about 400 kilometers east of the capital, Kyiv.”There were 27 people on the aircraft,” said Oleksii Kucher, Kharkiv governor. “There were seven officers and 20 military students. We can say for sure now that 22 people died. Two people are in hospital. And there are three people missing.”One pilot reported failure in one of the plane’s two engines, Kucher said, adding that it should not have been a critical situation for an experienced pilot.The Antonov An-26 aircraft was conducting training exercises and most of those on board were air force cadets at the defense ministry’s Kharkiv University of Air Force.Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s office said a state commission is being established to identify the circumstances and causes of the incident.

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