Letter Text (PDF)

Washington (December 13, 2023) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter today to Secretary of State Antony Blinken urging the Department of State to prioritize the release of political prisoners in Cambodia, including Cambodian American activist Theary Seng who was convicted on baseless charges of treason and social disorder in 2022. Additionally, the letter urged the Department of State to designate Ms. Seng as unlawfully detained under the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act, and to transfer her case to the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy on Hostage Affairs.  

Since November 2020, approximately 250 Cambodian civil society and opposition party leaders have faced judicial harassment, resulting in many of them being imprisoned, exiled, or defecting from opposition parties. According to the State Department, Cambodian authorities have threatened and harassed opposition leaders, civil society, and independent media, undermining the country’s constitution and international obligations and denying the Cambodian people the ability to participate in determining the future of their country.

In their letter to Secretary Blinken, the lawmakers said, “We are particularly disturbed by the wrongful and unlawful imprisonment of Theary Seng, who received a six-year prison sentence for innocuous posts on Facebook, including one criticizing Hun Sen and another urging him to allow Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention declared Seng’s detention arbitrary, politically motivated, and violative of international law, and called for her immediate and unconditional release.”

The lawmakers continued, “Given the change of Cambodian leadership, this is a pivotal moment for the U.S. Department of State to urgently designate Theary Seng as unlawfully detained and firmly emphasize the importance of releasing all those who the Cambodian government has wrongfully imprisoned.”

Cosigners include Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), and Representatives Barbara Lee (CA-12), Jill Tokuda (HI-02), Veronica Escobar (TX-16), Robert Garcia (CA-42), Jim McGovern (MA-02), Eleanor Norton (DC), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), and Raúl Grijalva (AZ-07).

The letter is endorsed by Freedom House and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights.

In July, Senator Markey and his colleagues?reintroduced the?Cambodia Democracy and Human Rights Act, bipartisan and bicameral legislation to hold the Cambodian government accountable for abuses and corruption that undermine democracy and human rights. In December 2019, Senator Markey and then-Senator Cory Gardner (R-Colo.)?successfully passed the?Gardner-Markey Asia Reassurance Initiative Act,?legislation that imposes conditions upon U.S. assistance to the Government of Cambodia related to democracy and regional security. In November 2017, Senators Markey and Warren and then-Congresswoman Niki Tsongas (MA-03)?wrote?to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging the Trump administration to persuade Cambodia to release Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Kem Sokha, cease harassment of Cambodia’s main opposition party, and respect the freedom of the press and the rights of all Cambodians to freely and peacefully assemble, protest, and criticize the government.??