In recent weeks Cambodia’s normally repressive leader, Hun Sen, has outdone himself in destroying what remains of independent news media, civil society and political opposition. His apparent motive is to wipe out any contrary voices before a 2018 election, transforming a malfunctioning democracy into a fully authoritarian state.

The latest turn of the screw came Sunday, with the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha and the announcement two days later that he had been charged with treason for “a secret plan and the activities of conspiracy.” His “red-handed crime” was his appearance in a 2013 video telling supporters he received U.S. support and advice in planning political strategy.

Another target is the Cambodia Daily, known for its critical investigative reporting. Faced with a one-month deadline from the government to pay $6.3 million for years of back taxes, which the newspaper disputed, the Daily closed its doors Monday. At the same time, the government has been actively attempting to silence radio broadcasts and pressuring radio station owners to stop relaying broadcasts of Radio Free Asia and Voice of America.

On Aug. 23, Cambodia ordered the National Democratic Institute to cease operations and its foreign workers to leave the country. The nongovernmental organization had worked in Cambodia for 25 years, with both the ruling party and opposition, attempting to help strengthen democratic processes and institutions. Its expulsion was based on a law on nongovernmental organizations that has been widely criticized as a weapon against such groups.

The State Department expressed “grave concern” about the arrest of Kem Sokha, but at the same time President Trump has declared that the U.S. will not try to build democracy in other nations. “We are not asking others to change their way of life,” Trump said recently. Hun Sen must think now is a good time to shutter what’s left of Cambodia’s democracy.

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