CAMBODIA: New wave of arrests targeting human rights defenders threatens to destroy vibrant human rights community

Press release

Paris-Geneva, May 9, 2016 - Cambodian authorities must immediately end their crackdown against the human rights community, the Observatory (FIDH-OMCT) urged today. Two human rights workers, four land rights activists and two international rights workers were arrested this morning in Phnom Penh as they attempted to make their way to a demonstration organised to denounce the arbitrary detention of four senior human rights workers and a former colleague one week ago. All were released in the evening of the same day.

On May 9 in the morning, Mr. Thav Kimsan, Deputy Director of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), and Mr. Ee Sarom, Executive Director of the housing rights organisation Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT), were stopped around 2 km from Prey Sar prison and detained in Dangkao district police station. Shortly afterwards, Ms. Sor Sorn, a land rights activist from the Borei Keila community, was also arrested and brought to Dangkao district police station. At about the same time, Ms. Bov Sophea, Ms. Kong Chantha and Ms. Song Sreyleap, three land rights activists from the Boeung Kak community, were arrested and detained in Daun Penh police station.

The six were on their way to participate in the first “Black Monday”, a demonstration that was planned to take place outside Prey Sar’s CC1 and CC2 prisons and in which participants dressed in black to call for the release of four staff of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) - Messrs. Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, and Ms. Lim Mony - as well as former ADHOC staffer Mr. Ny Chakrya, recently appointed Deputy Secretary General of the National Election Committee (NEC), who were detained on May 2 following their arrest by the Government’s Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) on April 28.

"Police intimidation and judicial harassment have escalated in the past weeks. This is the worst crackdown against civil society in years, and is a clear attempt to destroy Cambodia’s vibrant human rights community.

Karim Lahidji, FIDH President

At about 11.30 am, two international consultants from LICADHO, were taken to the Immigration Department for questioning while outside the Dangkao district police station. The two were among about 40 who gathered outside the station to support the detained human rights defenders. While in custody, the two were questioned in relation to the attempted demonstration.

The eight defenders were all released between 6.30 and 7.30 pm, without any charge.

On May 8, the Interior Ministry had issued a statement opposing the “Black Monday”, warning that authorities would enforce the law in order to maintain peace, political stability and social order.

The waves of recent arrests add to legal restrictions imposed against civil society through the repressive Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO), which contains numerous provisions violating international human rights standards binding Cambodia, as well as the country’s own Constitution.

Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General

The Observatory calls upon the authorities of Cambodia to immediately and unconditionally release the five human rights defenders still incarcerated after being arbitrarily detained last week and, more generally, to put an end to the increasing repression of dissenting voices in the country.

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