UN body declares detention of opposition leader Kem Sokha ‘arbitrary’, calls for his immediate release

09/05/2018
Press release

(Paris) A United Nations (UN) body has declared that the detention of opposition leader Kem Sokha is arbitrary and demanded that Cambodian authorities immediately and unconditionally release him.

In an opinion adopted on 19 April 2018 in response to a complaint submitted by FIDH in December 2017, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) also called the arrest and detention of Kem Sokha “politically motivated,” in a context of “what appears to be an escalating trend in Cambodia of suppression of criticism of the government” ahead of the July 2018 general election. A copy of the opinion was received by FIDH on 7 May 2018.

“The eight-month pre-trial detention of Kem Sokha is not only arbitrary but also shameful and inhumane. Kem Sokha did not commit any crime and is being punished exclusively for his unwavering fight for democracy. He must be immediately released, along with all other detained opposition members and supporters.”

Debbie Stothard, FIDH Secretary-General

The WGAD also called on the Cambodian authorities to award Kem Sokha compensation and other reparations for his arbitrary detention, in accordance with international law.

The WGAD expressed “serious concern” about the health of Kem Sokha, who suffers from severe pain from a rotator cuff tear in his shoulder, as well as high blood pressure and hyperglycemia. The UN called on the government to ensure Kem Sokha receives appropriate medical treatment “as soon as possible,” in accordance with international standards. Kem Sokha is currently detained at Trapaing Thlong Prison (Correctional Center 3 Prison) in Tboung Khmum Province.

Police arrested Kem Sokha, President of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), shortly after midnight on 3 September 2017. At least 100 police conducted the raid on his home in connection with an alleged plot to overthrow the government. The WGAD declared that authorities did not invoke a legal basis at the time of his arrest, in violation of Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Cambodia is a state party. The WGAD considered that Kem Sokha was “clearly not arrested in flagrante delicto” and that his arrest was in violation of his parliamentary immunity. [1]

On 5 September 2017, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged Kem Sokha with treason under Article 443 of the Criminal Code (‘conspiracy with [a] foreign power’). The charges stemmed from a speech he delivered in Australia in 2013, the video of which was posted online. The WGAD said it was “unclear” how a public speech promoting democracy in Cambodia and posting a video of the speech online would fall within the definition of treason under Article 443. The WGAD called on the government to bring Article 443 of the Criminal Code into line with the provisions of the ICCPR. The UN body also said that the Cambodian government failed to demonstrate that the prosecution of Kem Sokha on a charge of treason was a “necessary, reasonable and proportionate response in protecting national security or public order.”

The WGAD concluded that Kem Sokha’s detention resulted from the exercise of his rights to freedom of opinion and expression, under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Article 19 of the ICCPR, and the right to take part in the government of his country and in the conduct of public affairs (under Article 21 of the UDHR and Article 25 of the ICCPR).

The opinion of the WGAD also found that international norms relating to Kem Sokha’s right to a fair trial were not observed. While the WGAD emphasized the fact that Kem Sokha should not be tried because his detention is arbitrary, it nonetheless considered that his right to a fair trial was violated, contrary to Articles 9(3) and 14 of the ICCPR. In the latest development, on 7 May 2018, the Supreme Court rejected Kem Sokha’s request for bail. No trial date has yet been set. Kem Sokha has been denied bail three times since September 2017.

The Cambodian government did not respond to the communication it received from the WGAD in January 2018 regarding Kem Sokha’s case.

Press contacts
Mr. Andrea Giorgetta (English) - Tel: +66886117722 (Bangkok)
Ms. Maryna Chebat (French, English) - Tel: +33648059157 (Paris)
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