The ICJ is deeply concerned at the recent legal harassment of several Cambodian human rights defenders and perceived political opponents, which raises serious questions as to the impartiality of the investigators, prosecutors and judges involved.
The ICJ calls on the Government to immediately conduct an independent review of the decision to pursue these cases, to end the prosecution of those who have been charged if the allegations are found to be groundless or the proceedings to have been unlawful or abusive, to cease the use of judicial and prosecutorial processes to harass and intimidate human rights defenders and perceived political opponents, and to respect its international obligations under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.
“The decision to proceed with these cases should be subject to a careful and independent review and any charges that have resulted must be dropped if the allegations are found to be without merit or have been carried through unlawful or abusive procedures,” said Kingsley Abbott, International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia with the ICJ.
“The strong appearance of bias present in these cases flies in the face of the absolute right of all accused to have their case considered by independent and impartial prosecutors and judges at every stage of the process,” he added.
The different proceedings all stem from allegations centered on an alleged affair between Khom Chandaraty (also known as Srey Mom) and Kem Sokha, acting leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
After a voice recording appeared on social media, allegedly of a conversation between them, the Cambodian Counter-Terrorism Directorate of the Government’s Central Directorate for Security “invited” Srey Mom for questioning, which prompted her to seek human rights assistance from a leading Cambodian NGO, the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC).
On 11 March 2016, the Counter-Terrorism Directorate questioned Srey Mom. She denied the suggestions she had a relationship with Kem Sokha and that she was the female voice on the recording.
On 19 April 2016, after having met with ADHOC on a number of further occasions, Srey Mom was asked in a closed session with a prosecutor at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to answer allegations of having provided false testimony and of having engaged in prostitution.
On this occasion, Srey Mom admitted to a relationship with Kem Sokha.
On 22 April 2016, Srey Mom alleged in an open letter that ADHOC staff had attempted to persuade her to lie to the authorities.
On 2 May 2016, an Investigating Judge in Phnom Penh charged four staff members of ADHOC, Nay Vanda, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, and Lem Mony, with “bribery of a witness”.
A former staff member of ADHOC, Ny Chakrya, and a staff member of the Cambodia Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Sally Soen, were also charged with being accomplices, notwithstanding Sally Soen’s immunity from prosecution under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.
The allegation of bribery appears to relate to the fact that ADHOC reportedly provided Srey Mom with a small sum of money to cover food and transport costs, including to attend questioning by judicial authorities.
“While Cambodia has a positive legal duty under international law to protect human rights defenders from attacks arising out of their work, these proceedings appear to be aimed at intimidating and silencing Cambodian civil society and are the latest in a series of laws and actions directed against them,” said Abbott.
Last year, the Government passed the Law on Associations and NGOs (LANGO), which Abbott stated would “severely restrict the ability of members of civil society to exercise their rights to freedom of association and expression which Cambodia has a duty to protect under its international obligations.” Abbott further stated that the Governments intention was to “…weaken the impact of NGOs, including human rights defenders.”
Under Article 12 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, States have an obligation to take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of human rights defenders, including against any threats, pressure, retaliation or arbitrary action as a consequence of the legitimate exercise of their rights under the Declaration.
In other proceedings, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court summoned Kem Sokha to answer allegations of criminal defamation and two other members of the CNRP, Pin Ratana and Tok Vanchan, have been questioned about allegations of prostitution.
Political commentator, Ou Virak, has been summoned to appear in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on 12 May 2016 to answer allegations of criminal defamation for expressing the view that the ruling Cambodian Peoples Party (CPP) was exploiting the alleged affair between Kem Sokha and Srey Mom.
On 24 April 2016, a CNRP commune chief, Seang Chet, was arrested and detained on charges of bribery after Srey Mom alleged Seang Chet had attempted to pay her mother US $500 to encourage her to deny the affair.
Kingsley Abbott, ICJ’s International Legal Adviser, t: +66 94 470 1345, e: kingsley.abbott(a)icj.org