CAMBODIA: Release detained human rights defenders and stop their harassment

Press release

Paris-Geneva, July 21, 2016 - The Cambodian Government must immediately release five prominent human rights defenders who are currently arbitrarily detained based on trumped-up charges that stem solely from their human rights activities, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (an FIDH-OMCT partnership) said today. The call was made following a three-day mission conducted by the Observatory in Phnom Penh from July 17 to 19, 2016. The Observatory also calls on the authorities to end threats, intimidation, and harassment against human rights defenders in the country.

"An increasing number of Cambodian human rights defenders find themselves behind bars or forced into exile. The Government must immediately end its campaign of repression against civil society and release all those who have been arbitrarily detained.”

Karim Lahidji, FIDH President

On July 18, 2016, Ny Chakrya, former Head of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association’s (ADHOC) human rights section and current National Election Committee (NEC) Deputy Secretary-General, stood trial at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on charges of defamation brought by the former Deputy Prosecutor and the Investigative Judge at the Siem Reap Provincial Court (see background information). At the trial, Ny Chakrya objected to the continuation of the proceedings without the presence in court of the two plaintiffs. Ny Chakrya’s legal team argued that the absence of the two plaintiffs prevented their client from challenging his accusers. When the trial Judge Khy Chhai refused to adjourn the proceedings to allow for the presence of the plaintiffs, Ny Chakrya’s attorney requested that he be allowed to file a motion to recuse the judge within 30 days. As a result, Judge Khy Chhai adjourned the trial pending a decision on the request to recuse him. The proceedings lasted less than 20 minutes.

“The trial of Ny Chakrya exemplifies the Cambodian judiciary’s lack of impartiality and independence. Until he was faced with a request to have him recused, the judge appeared determined to proceed with the prosecution of the defendant in total disregard of standards for fair trials.”

Andrea Giorgetta, FIDH Director of Asia Desk - Southeast Asia, who observed the court proceedings

The Observatory recalls that Ny Chakrya has been detained since May 2, 2016, in relation to another case in which he is accused of having been an accomplice in the bribing of a witness, along with ADHOC staff members Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, and Lim Mony (see background information).

“The ongoing detention of the five human rights defenders is arbitrary and comes as yet another confirmation of how the judiciary is being used by the Government of Cambodia to silence and intimidate dissenting voices. Courts should send a strong signal of judicial independence and grant bail to all detained human rights defenders as a first step towards their unconditional release.”

Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General

On June 13, 2016, the Court of Appeals in Phnom Penh denied bail to Ny Chakrya, Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, and Lim Mony. The court’s refusal to release the five detained human rights defenders on bail is a significant obstacle to the exercise of their basic rights, including the fundamental right to liberty and the right to a fair trial.

Family members of the five expressed concerns over poor detention conditions in the prisons. They noted overcrowded cells, insufficient and poor quality food, and inadequate medical care. In addition, the family members complained that their relatives were not segregated from the general prison population of convicted criminals, including those imprisoned for serious offenses.

The Observatory calls on the Cambodian Government to comply with the country’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Cambodia is a State party. Article 9(3) of the ICCPR prescribes that pre-trial detention should be an exception and should be as short as possible. The refusal to grant bail to the human rights defenders also compromises their right to be presumed innocent (guaranteed by Article 14(2) of the ICCPR). The Observatory also urges the Cambodian authorities to ensure the respect of international human rights standards related to prison conditions. These include the United Nations (UN) Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (‘Mandela Rules’) and the Body of Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or Imprisonment.

During the Observatory’s mission in addition to the observation of Ny Chakrya’s trial and a visit to Ny Chakrya in Phnom Penh’s Police Judiciaire prison, Mr. Giorgetta, the mission delegate, also met with activists, human rights defenders, and members of civil society to discuss their human rights concerns, as well as with acting Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Deputy Leader Kem Sokha and European Union (EU) Ambassador to Cambodia George Edgar.

Background information:

Ny Chakrya is facing charges of “public defamation”, “acts of slanderous denunciation”, and “publication of commentaries to put pressure on jurisdiction”, under Articles 305, 311, and 522 of the Cambodian Criminal Code. If found guilty of all charges, he could face a prison term of up to one-and-a-half years and a fine [1].

In addition to the above, Ny Chakrya has been arbitrarily detained since May 2, 2016, on charges of being an accomplice in the bribing of a witness (Articles 29 and 548 of the Criminal Code) in connection with a separate case. On the same day, ADHOC staff members Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, and Lim Mony were detained on charges of bribing a witness (Article 548 of the Criminal Code). If convicted, the five human rights defenders could face from five to ten years’ imprisonment [2].

Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, and Yi Soksan are held in Prey Sar’s Correctional Center 1 (‘CC1’), while Lim Mony is detained in Prey Sar’s Correctional Center 2 (‘CC2’). Ny Chakrya is detained in Police Judiciaire prison. All three prisons are located in Phnom Penh.

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