Cambodia: Release of fourteen human rights defenders

22/11/2021
Statement

Paris-Geneva, November 22, 2021 –Fourteen human rights defenders who had been held in arbitrary detention for months were released in the first weeks of November. Yet, the criminalisation of their legitimate human rights activities is ongoing, as the judicial harassment against them has not come to an end. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT-FIDH) calls for the immediate end of the persecution of all human rights defenders in Cambodia.

After more than one year of arbitrary detention on trumped-up charges, the Cambodian authorities released at least 14 human rights defenders. Yet, the charges against them are still pending, which effectively means that the authorities reserve the right to arrest and imprison them should the defenders fail to comply with the probationary conditions imposed on them. The 14 rights defenders are requested to inform the prosecutor of any change of address, profession, and intention to leave the country. They are also forbidden to associate with any of the other released defenders. Should they be convicted again during the probation period, they will have to serve the full original sentence in addition to any new one.

Seven of them were detained for participating or attempting to participate in protests calling for the release of Rong Chhun. The other seven had been detained in retaliation to their legitimate and peaceful work to protect the environment.

The 14 human rights defenders released are:

- Mr. Tha Lavy, member of the youth group Khmer Thavrak [1] . He was arrested on September 7, 2020, on his way to a peaceful assembly at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh to call for the release of Rong Chhun. The protest was eventually cancelled by the police. He was charged with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” (Articles 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code) and placed under pre-trial detention in Phnom Penh’s Correction Centre 1 (CC1). He was released on November 5, 2021.

- Mr. Koet Saray, a Buddhist monk and member of Khmer Thavrak. He was arrested on September 6, 2020, in connection with the Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park protest. He was charged with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” and placed under pre-trial detention in CC1. He was released on November 5, 2021.

- Mr. Mean Prommony, Vice President of the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association (KSILA) [2]. He was arrested on September 6, 2020,for planning the Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park protest. He was charged with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” and placed under pre-trial detention in CC1. He was released on November 5, 2021.

- Ms. Eng Malai (aka So Metta), member of Khmer Thavrak. She was arrested on September 7, 2020, for her participation in the protest at Freedom Park. She was charged with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” and placed under pre-trial detention in Phnom Penh’s Correction Centre 2 (CC2). She was released on November 8, 2021.

- Mr. Muong Sopheak, member of KSILA. He was arrested on September 11, 2020. He was charged with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” for planning to participate in the Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park protest and placed under pre-trial detention in CC1. He was released on November 11, 2021.

- Mr. Hun Vannak, member of Khmer Thavrak. He was arrested on August 13, 2020, for gathering outside the Municipal Court of Phnom Penh to call for the release of Rong Chhun. He was charged with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” and placed under pre-trial detention in CC1. He was released on November 12, 2021.

- Ms. Chhoeun Daravy, member of Khmer Thavrak. She was arrested on August 13, 2020, together with Mr. Vannak. She was charged with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” and placed under pre-trial detention in CC2. She was released on November 12, 2021.

- Mr. Rong Chhun, prominent labour rights defender, President of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU), and a member of the Cambodian Watchdog Council (CWC). On August 18, 2021, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced him to two years in prison for “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest”. He was held detained in CC1 from his arrest on July 31, 2020, until his release on November 12, 2021.

- Ms. Long Kunthea, member of Mother Nature Cambodia [3] . She was arbitrarily arrested on September 3, 2020, for planning a solo protest calling for the protection of Phnom Penh’s Bueng Ta-mouk lake. On May 5, 2021, she was sentenced to 18 months in prison on charges of “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest”. She was held detained in CC2 until her release on November 12, 2021.

- Mr. Thun Ratha, member of Mother Nature Cambodia. He was arrested on September 3, 2020, along with Ms. Kunthea. On May 5, 2021, he was sentenced to 20 months in prison on charges of “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest”. He was released on November 12, 2021, after 14 months of arbitrary detention in CC1.

- Ms. Phoun Keo Reaksmey, member of Mother Nature Cambodia. She was arrested on September 3, 2020, along with Ms. Kunthea and Mr. Ratha. On May 5, 2021, she was sentenced to 18 months in prison on charges of “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest”. She was placed in CC2 until her release on November 12, 2021.

- Ms. Sun Ratha, member of Mother Nature Cambodia. She was arrested on June 16, 2021, by police in Phnom Penh’s Duan Penh District after she had filmed runoff from drainpipes into the Tonle Sap River near the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. On June 18, 2021, she was charged with “plotting” and “insulting the King (Article 437(bis) of the Criminal Code) and placed under pre-trial detention in CC2. She was released on November 12, 2021.

- Mr. Ly Chan Daravuth, member of Mother Nature Cambodia. He was arrested on June 16, 2021, by police in Phnom Penh’s Duan Penh District along with Ms. Ratha. On June 18, 2021, he was charged with “plotting” (Article 453 of the Criminal Code) and placed under pre-trial detention in CC1 until his release on November 12, 2021.

- Mr. Yim Leanghy, member of Mother Nature Cambodia. He was summoned for questioning by police in Koh Thom District, in Kandal Province, on June 16, 2021, and was arrested upon his arrival to the police station. On June 18, 2021, he was charged with “plotting” and “insulting the King” and placed under pre-trial detention in CC2. He was released on November 12, 2021.

While the Observatory welcomes the release of the above-mentioned human rights defenders, it underlines that they should have never been detained in the first place, for their detention being arbitrary and only putting their lives at risk amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Furthermore, the Observatory urges the authorities to put an immediate end to the ongoing judicial harassment these human rights defenders face and to take all necessary measures to ensure they are able to carry out their legitimate work without hindrance and fear of reprisals.

The Observatory condemns the systematic use of legal harassment to target all critical voices, and expresses its concern over the serious deterioration of the human rights situation in the country, as well as the increasing obstacles to the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly in Cambodia.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society .

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