Cambodia: Continued arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Mr. Ven Vorn

20/02/2016
Urgent Appeal

KHM 003 / 1015 / OBS 084.1
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment
Cambodia
February 19, 2016

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Cambodia.

New information :

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the continued arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of Mr. Ven Vorn, an Areng Valley environmental activist and a community leader of the indigenous Chong minority in Koh Kong Province.

According to the information received, on February 17, 2016, Mr. Ven Vorn appeared before the Koh Kong Provincial Court to answer charges of “harvesting timber products and/or non-timber forest products without a permit” (Article 98 of the Forestry Law) and “destruction of evidence” (Article 533 of the Criminal Code). The court dropped the charge of “destruction of evidence” due to a lack of evidence. If convicted of the remaining charge, Mr. Ven Vorn could face up to five years of imprisonment.

Mr. Ven Vorn has been arbitrarily detained since October 7, 2015 at the Koh Kong provincial prison. He is due to appear again before the Koh Kong Provincial Court on March 3, 2016, when a verdict is expected.

The Observatory strongly condemns the arbitrary detention of and judicial harassment against Mr. Ven Vorn, which only aims at sanctioning his legitimate human rights activities, and calls on the Cambodian authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally.

Background information :

On September 2, 2015, 17 persons, including Mr. Ven Vorn, were arrested outside Koh Kong Provincial Court. They were picketing to demand the release of the three jailed activists, Messrs. Sim Samnang, Tri Sovichea, and Sun Mala who had also been involved in protests against a hydroelectric dam (see below) [1]. Mr. Ven Vorn was subsequently released.

On October 7, 2015, at around 12.20 p.m., Mr. Ven Vorn was rearrested and sent to Koh Kong provincial prison. The arrest followed the decision of Investigating Judge Mr. Min Makara, who had questioned Mr. Ven Vorn the same morning and charged him with “harvesting timber products and/or non-timber forest products without a permit” (Article 98 of the Forestry Law) and “destruction of evidence” (Article 533 of the Criminal Code).

Both of the above-mentioned charges relate to the construction by Mr. Vorn and a group of local activists of a small visitor centre and community meeting place for local activists involved in a campaign against the proposed construction of a hydropower dam in the Areng Valley. According to activists and environmental groups, the hydropower dam poses a threat to their land, livelihood, and the natural environment. For this project, Mr. Vorn and others had purchased approximately 10 cubic metres of wood from a vendor in 2014, which authorities claimed had been procured by the vendor through illegal logging.

Mr. Ven Vorn had been previously questioned on April 3, 2015 at the Koh Kong Provincial Court in relation to the same alleged illegal logging incident before being released on the same day.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Cambodia asking them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Ven Vorn as well as of all human rights defenders in Cambodia;

ii. Release Mr. Ven Vorn immediately and unconditionally since his detention is arbitrary as it only aims at sanctioning his human rights activities;

iii. Put an end to all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Mr. Ven Vorn, as well as against all human rights defenders in the country so that they are able to carry out their work without hindrance;

iv. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular with its:

- Article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or collectively, to promote the protection and fulfilment of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”,
- Article 5(a), which stipulates that everyone has the right “to meet or assemble peacefully”,
- Article 12.1, which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
- Article 12.2, which says that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

v. Guarantee the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other international human rights instruments signed or ratified by Cambodia.

Addresses:

- Mr. Hun Sen, Prime Minister, Office of the Prime Minister, 41 Russian Federation Blvd, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 360666 / +855 23 880624 (c/o Council of Ministers), Email: leewood_phu@nida.gov.kh / cppparty@gmail.com

- Mr. Sar Kheng, Minister of Interior, Ministry of Interior, 275 Norodom Blvd, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 212708

- Mr. Ang Vong Vathna, Minister of Justice, Ministry of Justice, 240 Sothearos Blvd, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 364 119

- Mr. Hor Nam Hong, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 161 Preah Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Fax: +855 23 216144 / +855 23 216141 Email: mfaic@mfa.gov.kh

- Mr. Mak Sambath, President of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, Office of the Prime Minister, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Fax: +855 12 813781 / +855 23 211162 / +855 23 881045 (c/o Council of Ministers)

- Mr. Sok An, Deputy Prime Minister, Fax: +855 23 882065, Email: leewood_phu@nida.gov.kh, info@pressocm.gov.kh

- Ambassador Mr. Ney Samol, Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva, Chemin de Taverney 3, Case postale 213, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, Switzerland, Fax: +41 22 788 77 74, Email: camemb.gva@mfa.gov.kh / cambodge@bluewin.ch

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Cambodia in your respective countries.

Paris-Geneva, February 19, 2016

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, an FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of human rights defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

· Email: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
· Tel and fax FIDH +33 1 43 55 25 18 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
· Tel and fax OMCT +41 22 809 49 39 / +41 22 809 49 29
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