Cambodia: Continued judicial harassment faced by Messrs. Vorn Pao, Theng Savoeun, Chan Puthisak and Sokun Sambath Piseth

09/02/2016
Urgent Appeal

KHM 001 / 0216 / OBS 014
Judicial harassment /
Obstacles to freedom of peaceful assembly
Cambodia
February 9, 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), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Cambodia.

Description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the continued judicial harassment faced by Messrs. Vorn Pao, President of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA) [1], Theng Savoeun, Secretariat Coordinator of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC), Chan Puthisak, a human rights defender from the Boeung Kak Lake community, and Sokun Sambath Piseth, former staff member at the Center for Labor Rights of Cambodia (CLaRi).

According to the information received, on January 5, 2016, the Phnom Penh’s Court of Appeal set the date of January 26 for the appeal trial against the four above-mentioned human rights defenders. On the same day, Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly threatened Mr. Vorn Pao with legal action during a speech for the inauguration of the Pram Makara overpass in Phnom Penh.

The appeal trial date was set two days after the four defenders participated in a peaceful memorial ceremony to mark the second anniversary of the January 2-3, 2014 violent crackdown on striking workers and the death of several people during the events (see background information). This ceremony was dispersed by police and security forces.

Messrs. Vorn Pao, Theng Savoeun, Chan Puthisak and Sokun Sambath Piseth have been prosecuted for their involvement in organising and leading the January 2-3, 2014 protests .

All four have appealed a conviction dating back to May 30, 2014. On that date, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced the four men to suspended sentences ranging from four to four and a half years of imprisonment [2] on charges of “intentional violence with aggravating circumstances” under Article 218 of the Criminal Code [3]. They had also been fined eight million riels (approx. 1,840 Euros) [4].

On January 26, 2016, the appeal trial against Messrs. Vorn Pao, Theng Savoeun, Chan Puthisak, and Sokun Sambath Piseth - which was due to take place at the Phnom Penh’s Court of Appeals - was postponed to an unknown date, at the request of some of the accused [5].

The Observatory strongly condemns the ongoing judicial harassment against Messrs. Vorn Pao, Theng Savoeun, Chan Puthisak and Sokun Sambath Piseth, which only aims at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities, and calls upon the Cambodian authorities to put an immediate end to it.

Background information:

During the January 2014 crackdown, government security forces arrested 23 protesters, including striking garment workers and human rights defenders, at two separate locations in Phnom Penh. Among those detained were Messrs. Vorn Pao [6], Theng Savoeun, Chan Puthisak and Sokun Sambath Piseth. The 23 men were held incommunicado by the authorities for five days, without access to lawyers, medical care or families, and 21 of the 23 were repeatedly denied bail. It was only on January 7, 2014 that the authorities finally revealed that Messrs. Vorn Pao, Theng Savoeun, Chan Puthisak and Sokun Sambath Piseth, among others, were being held at Correctional Center 3 in Kampong Cham Province. They were all released on May 30, 2014.

On April 25, 2014, the first hearing of the trial against the 23 men arrested, including Messrs. Vorn Pao, Theng Savoeun, Chan Puthisak, and Sokun Sambath Piseth, commenced at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Four more hearings took place from May 22 to 30, 2014, when the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced the 23 to prison terms ranging from one and four and a half years in connection with the January 2014 crackdown [7].

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Cambodia asking them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Messrs. Vorn Pao, Theng Savoeun, Chan Puthisak and Sokun Sambath Piseth, as well as of all human rights defenders in Cambodia;

ii. Put an end to all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level, against Messrs. Vorn Pao, Theng Savoeun, Chan Puthisak, and Sokun Sambath Piseth, as well as against all human rights defenders in the country so that they are able to carry out their work without hindrance;

iii. 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”;

iv. 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 / was

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

Paris-Geneva, February 9, 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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