A large group of local Cambodians gathered outside a Canley Heights restaurant on Sunday, January 13 to protest the presence in Australia of high-ranking government officials from the Cambodian government.
The officials hosted a banquet to mark the 40th anniversary of the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979.
One of the protesters, Khim Chy, said they decided to organise the protest after they learnt government officials from Cambodia had held similar functions in other cities.
“Cambodia, under Prime Minister Hun Sen, is no better than a dictatorship,” she said.
“The government banned the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party in 2017 and prevented it from standing candidates in the national elections last year.
“Without a credible opposition, Hun Sen’s party won every seat – the election was a sham”.
The protesters called for the release of the opposition leader, Kem Sokha, who was arrested in 2017 and is held under house arrest in Phnom Penh.
Srey Kang, who spoke at the demonstration, said: “We’ll keep protesting until democracy is restored in Cambodia.”
The delegation from Cambodia was led by Kim Santhepheap, who is under secretary of state for the Ministry of Justice in Cambodia.
He also holds the position of chairman of the Youth Organisation Task Force for Australia and New Zealand, which operates under the patronage of the Cambodian Prime Minister’s eldest son, Hun Manet.
“The Hun Sen government has set up branches of the Cambodian People’s Party in cities in Australia where Cambodians have settled,” Chhayri Marm said.
“The Hun Sen government has set up branches of the Cambodian People’s Party in Australia to influence the community here.”
“They want to influence the community here.”
Buddhist monks from two nearby temples prayed for the soul of pro-democracy activist Kem Ley, who was shot in a café in Phnom Penh in 2016. The demonstrators joined in the prayer as the monks chanted.
There was an altercation when a local Hun Sen supporter paced up and down behind Srey Kang as she made a speech. When she moved away, he argued with protesters. Calm was restored when a demonstrator shepherded him away.
Chhayri Marm said: “Whenever we hold a rally Hun Sen supporters are there. Despite efforts by the Hun Sen government to set up a base in Sydney, they have little real support here.