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Cambodian opposition leader arrested for treason

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Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha casts his ballot in local elections at a polling station in Phnom Penh

"Freedom of speech is rapidly becoming a highly endangered right in Prime Minister Hun Sen's march down the road to dictatorship in Cambodia", said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of the Human Rights Watch campaign group.

Sokha was arrested during a pre-dawn raid on his Phnom Penh home on Sunday for allegedly secretly planning against the government with the backing of the United States.

At the beginning of August, Cambodian authorities hit the publishers with US$6.3 million tax bill claiming that they had not paid tax since 2007.

The Cambodian Government described the above act as treason and espionage and said the court will handle this case according to the country's regulations.

In a statement, Hun Sen's government alleged "a secret plan of conspiracy between Kem Sokha, his group, and foreigners that harms Cambodia".

Kem Monovitthya, one of the politician's daughters, said on Facebook that her father had been handcuffed and taken away after hundreds of policemen raided his home.

"The government's charge lacks credibility, given its long record of misusing its legal system to silence or intimidate critics and political opponents", he said.

Gen. Khieu Sopheak, interior spokesman, dismissed the CNRP's comments, claiming the government had evidence to support their assertion that Sokha had committed treason and that Sokha's actions risked returning the country to "civil war". If Mr Kem Sokha is found guilty of any offence, it could allow the government to shut the party down under a new law that forbids political parties from having a leader who has been convicted.

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Sam Rainsy lives in exile in France to avoid a defamation conviction he says was politically motivated. Hun Sen, 65, is a former Khmer Rouge soldier who switched sides before it was driven out.

"This is the political strategy for democratic countries, that's what they do".

His Cambodian People's Party won local elections in June, but the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) also did well, increasing expectations of a close contest in the coming general election.

The arrest of Kem Sokha comes after the government cracked down on NGOs and critical media. USA non-profit the National Democratic Institute and at least one other US charity were expelled from the country.

It says the hefty bill was invented by the government and not based on an audit of its books.

An independent newspaper, The Cambodia Daily, has been ordered to halt publishing by Monday because of a tax dispute, and at least 15 radio stations have been ordered to stop broadcasting programming from the Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.

After "24 years and 15 days of journalistic activities" the newspaper said it will publish its last print edition on September 4, but will keep its website with all past articles online from a server located in a foreign country for the foreseeable future. He had defected from the Khmer Rouge across the border to Vietnam in the late 1970s.

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