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Meet Sam Rainsy (@RainsySam), fierce Cambodian opposition leader and 2024 Oslo Freedom Forum speaker.

Rainsy first took political office in 1993, serving as finance minister in a government formed after the 1993 United Nations-led elections — one of the largest UN peacekeeping operations to restore democracy in war-torn Cambodia. Despite UN efforts, in 1997, that government was overthrown in a violent coup, and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) seized power, with strongman Hun Sen installed as prime minister for nearly three decades.

In defiance of Hun Sen’s iron-clad grip on power, Rainsy has consistently advocated for free and fair elections in Cambodia. His efforts culminated in the formation of the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) as the CPP’s official opposition.

SRP quickly rose to popularity in its early years and managed to come in second to Hun Sen and his ally in the 1998 and 2003 elections. This put Rainsy and other opposition politicians in the crosshairs of the Hun Sen regime, and in 2005, he was driven into exile after being stripped of his parliamentary immunity. In 2010, he was tried in absentia and sentenced to 10 years in prison on the accusation of spreading false information. He was later granted a royal pardon and allowed to return to Cambodia, but was made ineligible to contest the 2013 general election.

SRP eventually merged to form the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which again became Hun Sen’s largest rival in both the 2013 and 2017 elections. A palpable threat to the regime, Rainsy was charged with defamation and incitement, forcing him to return into exile in 2016. The CNRP was dissolved by Cambodia’s Supreme Court the following year. In the past two decades, Rainsy has repeatedly been convicted on politically motivated charges, and has ultimately been sentenced to life imprisonment, in absentia, and banned from politics.

Since the fateful 1997 coup, Cambodia has not seen another free and fair election. Hun Sen has essentially quashed all forms of political opposition, intimidated and targeted the Cambodian electorate, and silenced critical media outlets. Ahead of the sham 2023 elections, in which the CPP won unopposed, Rainsy hauntingly remarked, “Now even the facade of democracy has collapsed in Cambodia.”

Today, living in exile in Paris, Rainsy continues to lead the challenge against Cambodia’s ruthless dictatorship and be a champion of democracy and human rights in his home country. Register today for the Oslo Freedom Forum to hear from him firsthand.


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