Protesters Took to the Streets against ASEAN-Australia Special Summit
Last weekend, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-Australian Special Summit was held in Sydney. It was the first ever ASEAN Summit in Australia. Before the summit, many Australians took to the streets to protest the Australian government for hosting it.
The attendance of Hun Sen, Cambodia’s Prime Minister since 1985, was one of the reason why the protest occurred, as Hun Sen is condemned as an authoritarian leader by Human Rights organizations. Before the national elections scheduled in July, Hun Sen allegedly jailed and executed opposition party members along with his critics. He has gone so far as to say, “if you’re going to protest and you burn my photo or my effigy, I’m going to follow you and go to your house and beat you up.”
After 2013 when he was nearly voted out of the position, he reportedly began to aggressively target Cambodian diasporas. One evident effort was made when Hun Sen’s eldest son, Hun Manet, visited Australia in order to gain support in diaspora communities. Another effort was made when the Cambodian ambassador to Australia was ordered to increase efforts as a political organizer.
In addition to whipping up political support, Hun Sen’s party, Cambodian People’s Party, has opened a new branch of uniformed youth corps in Australia. Many Cambodian diasporas are aware of the possible threat that Hun Sen poses to their communities. Genevieve Kang, an organizer of one of the protests against Australia’s partnership with Cambodia has expressed concern, stating “They have got spies in the community. They have infiltrated the community. Some people are too scared to come because they don’t want their face identified.” For instance, Kem Sokha is currently a jailed opposition leader in Cambodia who gave a speech in Melbourne in 2013. The speech served as the primary evidence of his sentence.
Hong Lim, a Cambodia-born legislator in the Australian lower Parliament, is also subject to condemnation by the Cambodian government. After calling Cambodia “beastly,” he is barred from entering the country. Nevertheless, he has not backed down. Because Hun Sen had threatened to use violence against those involved in effigy burnings, Lim organized effigy burning protests twice last week. Asked about the threat, he answered that Hun Sen’s words gave him the inspiration to the effigy burning protest. He questioned, “Why didn’t we ever think about that?” On Hun Sen, he commented, “he thinks he can do anything he wants in Cambodia, and so he thinks he can come to Australia and do the same thing.” Lim is a community leader in Australia who is the first Australian of Asian descent to be elected in Parliament’s lower house.
Protesters called for Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to condemn Hun Sen. They claim that they have support from Australian politicians from both parties, such as Labor Party’s Mark Butler and Penny Wong, and Federal Greens’ leader Richard Di Natale.
Rights leaders also protested against the Australian government before the ASEAN summit last weekend. When Hun Sen dissolved the opposition party last year, Human Rights Watch identified the event as the “death of democracy.” This time, the organization called the summit Australia’s “dance with dictators. In addition to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, State Counsellor of Myanmar Aung San Suu Kyi and Thai military leader Prayut Chan-o-cha are attending the summit. The Australian director of Human Rights Watch Elaine Pearson said, “we don’t want this summit to just be a propaganda coup for Hun Sen and Suu Kyi and give them the global legitimacy they crave.”
A government official at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed at a Senate hearing that Australia warned the Cambodian government against threatening protesters within Australian borders. Still, Turnbull negotiated a deal with the Cambodian government to send back Cambodian refugees. According to ABC News, he also discussed the Rohingya refugee crisis with Aung San Suu Kyi during private talks on Monday, and encouraged a resolution that would enable refugees to go back to Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi was given full honors on her visit to Canberra where the talk was held.