POLITICAL FREEDOM | Exiled Cambodian leader and Chris Bowen speak up for Cambodian democracy here last Sunday

A special ceremony was held at the Cambodian Temple in Bonnyrigg on Sunday as more than 200 people crowded into the meeting hall to listen to Sam Rainsy, former leader of the opposition party in Cambodia.

He’d been invited to Australia to speak at the National Press Club on February 15 and before travelling to Canberra, he wanted to meet residents here to listen to their views and pay his respects to the community of monks living in the temple.

The Bonnyrigg temple, known as Wat Khemarangsaram, is the oldest Cambodian temple in Australia, built by the first refugees who came to Sydney and settled in Fairfield.

Most had lost members of their families and the temple was a place of spiritual solace for those who survived the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge.

Local Australian Cambodians who are worried about recent developments in Cambodia fear for the future of that country’s democracy.

In the past few months, the Hun Sen government has closed local newspapers and human-rights organisations and forced the opposition parties to dissolve.

Opponents of the Prime Minister have been imprisoned, gone into hiding or have fled the country, while Mr Rainsy himself has been forced into exile. 

Fairfield MP Chris Bowen told the meeting he’d watched the situation in Cambodia with concern, anger and despair.

He said: “The Paris Peace agreement had been one of Australia’s greatest accomplishments in international affairs and this makes our pain in seeing it reversed even greater.”

Chris Bowen spoke about the political situation in Cambodia in his speech to Federal Parliament on February 5. Watch it here.

Mr Rainsy paid tribute to Australia for its role in negotiating the Paris Peace Accord of 1991, which laid the foundation for democracy in Cambodia. This system is now under threat and he hoped Australia would continue in its mission to strengthen democracy in this region. He promised everyone he’d keep fighting.

Vandy Kang, who came to Sydney as a refugee 30 years ago, is worried about Cambodia. He’s never forgotten his life under the Khmer Rouge, when he lost his mother and two brothers and spent years living on the edge of a rice field.

He said: “When the Khmer Rouge was in power we couldn’t say what we thought for fear of being killed. Under Hun Sen people are again afraid to speak up. He’s even arresting people who make comments online. I feel sad when I see what’s happening. The Cambodian people have suffered enough.”

The meeting was chaired by Nairand Kay, President of the Cambodian National Rescue Party in Sydney. She said one of the reasons for the event was to raise money to support those MPs and their families who had to flee Cambodia and are now in exile.

I've watched the situation in Cambodia with concern, anger and despair.

Chris Bowen, Fairfield MP

Ms Kay came to Australia in 1983 after being falsely imprisoned. “I was in a Cambodian jail for two years and 18 days and was only released through the persistence of Amnesty International. Hun Sen was Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time.”

She’s also concerned about the situation in Australia. “The Cambodian community is worried about Hun Sen’s upcoming visit to Sydney in March to attend the ASEAN summit meeting. Over the last few years we’ve seen increasing interference by his political party in Cambodian community organisations in Australia and overseas.”

Afterwards the monks and the community gathered in the temple to pray for peace and a better future for the people of Cambodia.

  • 15/02/18:  Spelling of Venerable Long Sakhone corrected. Gallery amended.

Chris Bowen spoke about the political situation in Cambodia in his speech to Federal Parliament on February 5. Watch it here.

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