Cambodia: Seven opposition MPs detained amid ongoing restrictions on peaceful assembly

Press release

Paris, Phnom Penh, 18 July 2014 – The Cambodian government must release all seven Members of Parliament (MPs) and one official of Cambodia’s main opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), and immediately lift the ban on public gatherings of more than 10 people, FIDH and its member organizations the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) said today.

With the arbitrary detention of opposition MPs, Prime Minister Hun Sen is accelerating Cambodia’s descent into authoritarianism. Even more troubling is the ongoing political use of justice against any peaceful expression of dissent. By accusing opposition politicians of insurrection, the Cambodian justice system has reached new heights of ridicule. It’s time for the international community to pressure the government to enact genuine legal reforms in order to make the country’s judiciary independent from the executive branch,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

On 16 July, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged the six CNRP members with leading an insurrectional movement (Article 459 of the Criminal Code), incitement to commit a felony (Article 495 of the Criminal Code) and instigating aggravated, intentional violence (Article 28 and 218 of the Criminal Code) in connection with their involvement in a demonstration organized by the CNRP on 15 July at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park. If found guilty on all charges, the six could each face up to 30 years in prison. Demonstrators sought to reopen the area, which the government sealed off in April after banning public demonstrations.

The rally, involving several CNRP MPs and more than 300 party supporters, turned violent when district security guards removed a banner that protesters had placed on the barb wire barricades. The security guards then used batons to beat demonstrators. At least 40 people were injured in the clash, most of them district security guards.

CNRP MPs Mu Sochua, Men Thavrith, and Keo Phearum were arrested during the violent confrontation. CNRP MP Ho Vann was arrested later the same day after attempting to visit his colleagues at the police headquarters. Police arrested CNRP MP Real Khemrin after he travelled to Battambang Province. On 16 July, Oeur Narith, an official working for the CNRP’s public affairs department, was pulled from a car belonging to LICADHO and arrested near Boeung Trabek market. On 17 July, police in Phnom Penh arrested two more CNRP MPs, Long Ry and Nuth Roumdoul. On the same day, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court summoned CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha to appear for questioning on 25 July.

FIDH, ADHOC, and LICADHO call on the government to immediately revoke the blanket ban on public gatherings of more than 10 people imposed on 4 January. Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cambodia is a State Party, guarantees the right of peaceful assembly. Restrictions to this right must be prescribed by law and must meet the requirements of necessity and proportionality. [1]

The protracted ban on public gatherings is a blatant contravention of Cambodia’s obligations under international law. It was issued orally by the Cambodian Ministry of Interior and was never subsequently confirmed in writing. The imposition of a blanket ban indicates that the government ignored any consideration of the necessity and proportionality of such measure,” said LICADHO Director Naly Pilorge.

FIDH, ADHOC, and LICADHO also urge the Cambodian government to conduct a swift, impartial, and transparent investigation into the 15 July clashes and to bring all those responsible for the violence to justice, irrespective of their affiliation. The three organizations also reiterate their calls for a similar investigation into all previous instances of excessive use of force by law enforcement personnel, including the 3 January repression of a protest by striking garment workers that resulted in at least four people killed and over 25 injured.

The government must, once and for all, rein in its law enforcement personnel and stop using unofficial guards and hired thugs to repress peaceful protests,” said ADHOC President Thun Saray. Over the past year, policing of public demonstrations has showed a clear pattern of illegal and disproportionate use of force on the part of the authorities. The government has an obligation to end impunity for those serious abuses and the international community must step up pressure on Hun Sen’s administration to demand that perpetrators be held accountable,” he urged.

Press contacts

FIDH: Andrea Giorgetta (English) - Tel +66 886117722 (Bangkok)
FIDH: Mr. Arthur Manet (French, English, Spanish) - Tel: +33 6 72 28 42 94 (Paris)

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