New serious attack against opposition leaders

Press release
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The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and its member organisations in Cambodia, ADHOC and LICADHO, express their deepest concern at the recent crackdown on main opposition leaders in Cambodia.

On February 3, the National Assembly of Cambodia lifted the parliamentary immunity of three MPs belonging to Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), the main opposition party, thereby allowing criminal suits against them.

“We consider the lifting of the parliamentary immunity of Sam Rainsy, Cheam Channy and Chea Poch as a political move exclusively aimed at silencing them”, said Sidiki Kaba, President of the FIDH. While Sam Rainsy and Chea Poch were able to leave the country, Cheam Channy was arrested on February 3 and transferred the next day to Toul Sleng prison. He has been charged by the military Court with organised crime and fraud as well as failure to follow military orders.

The FIDH, ADHOC and Licadho recall that not only does domestic law prevents prosecution of civilians before military courts: under international law, the trying of civilians by such courts should be very exceptional and take place under conditions which genuinely afford the full guarantees related to the right to a fair trial [1].

“We consider that such a military court cannot guarantee the right to a fair trial because it is not an independent and impartial tribunal. The very fact that the leaders of the ruling parties, CPP (Cambodian People’s Party) and Funcinpec, are at the origin of the criminal cases against the three opposition leaders, and that their immunity was lifted during a session closed to journalists and diplomats confirms our fears”, said Thun Saray, President of ADHOC.

The criminal charges against them range from criminal defamation (against Sam Rainsy and Chea Poch) to the forming of an illegal rebel army.

With regard to the charge of defamation, we recall that the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression considers that criminal law is not appropriate for regulating libel or defamation and that criminal defamation is not a justifiable restriction on freedom of expression; “all criminal defamation laws should be abolished and replaced, as necessary, with appropriate civil defamation laws” [2].

With regard to the charge of forming an illegal rebel army, our organisations stress that the SRP overtly created, in 2002, a body of activists to monitor government military activities and act as spokespersons on defence issues. This normal political check can in no way be considered as a “rebel army”.

This new attack against opposition leaders takes place in a context whereby freedom of expression and assembly are under increasing threat, as is the defence of human rights. Public demonstrations have been restricted in Phnom Penh since January 2003, two labour rights activists were killed reportedly because of their work in 2004, an unexplained shooting of one NGO worker took place the same year and there were numerous incidents where other human rights defenders were threatened[3].

We call upon the authorities of Cambodia to abide by their international commitments, and in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified in 1992. “Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly should be fully respected as a basis for any sound democracy. Politically motivated suits should be dropped, Cheam Channy released and pluralism be tolerated and encouraged. The role played by human rights defenders should also be acknowledged and fully respected”, concluded Kek Galabru, President of Licadho.



[3] See the forthcoming Annual report 2004 of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

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