PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — With political and press freedoms under pressure ahead of elections scheduled for July, the United Nations’ specially appointed researcher on human rights in Cambodia said Wednesday that it is a mistake for the government of long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen to prioritize stability and development over human rights.
Professor Rhona Smith, speaking at the end of her fifth visit to Cambodia as a UN rapporteur, praised Cambodia for its gains in economic and social rights, but declared that ‘‘it is also necessary to respect civil and political rights.’’
Smith said freedom of expression was under serious threat, as was people’s right to take part in public affairs through freely chosen representatives.
Hun Sen has cracked down severely on his opponents ahead of the scheduled vote, shutting down critical media and using the courts to dissolve the only credible opposition party.
He has repeatedly cited the need for peace and stability as a reason for taking such measures, declaring that there will be trouble if he is not allowed to stay in office for another decade, as he has vowed to do.
Hun Sen has been in power for three decades, maintaining a framework of democracy while exercising near-total control.
His grip seemed shaken in 2013’s general election, when the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party mounted a strong challenge, winning 55 seats in the National Assembly and leaving Hun Sen’s party with 68.
Last year, Hun Sen’s government and his Cambodian People’s Party began mobilizing to neutralize political opponents and silence critics ahead of the general election in July.