The 13-month investigation into five current and former human rights workers known as the ‘Adhoc 5’ has ended, a court spokesman said on Wednesday, paving the way for a trial in a case widely condemned as being unjust and politically motivated.
“Now, the investigating judge has decided to close the investigation,” Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Y Rin said on Wednesday, adding that a trial date had not yet been scheduled.
Adhoc’s head of monitoring Ny Sokha, his deputies Nay Vanda and Yi Soksan, and senior investigator Lim Mony have been detained in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison for 420 days, after allegedly bribing the mistress of CNRP President Kem Sokha to deny an affair in April last year.
The four appeared at the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh on Wednesday to submit a request for bail. Multiple previous requests have been denied.
The fifth defendant, former Adhoc employee and current National Election Committee official Ny Chakrya, is being held separately from the others, in the capital’s PJ prison. The municipal court denied his request for bail earlier this month. Mr. Chakrya is charged as an accomplice to bribery.
The court had twice extended the detention of the five rights workers by six months, the first time in October and then again in April. Investigating Judge Theam Chan Piseth, who informed the defendants’ lawyer on Tuesday of the investigation’s conclusion, had cited the need for more time for investigation and additional questioning.
Their detention has been deemed arbitrary by a U.N. working group, criticized by the U.N.’s human rights office and denounced by international rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
More than 50 local and international civil society groups have called for their immediate release, and political observers linked their detention to a broader crackdown by the ruling CPP on political opponents and civil society ahead of the commune elections earlier this month.
In April, the five were chosen as finalists for the Martin Ennals Award, considered to be the Nobel Prize for human rights.
Ny Sokha said in the courtroom on Wednesday that his prolonged detention was affecting his health, a concern also raised by Yem Chantha, Mr. Chakrya’s wife.
“A few days ago, I fainted in the prison because I had high blood pressure,” Mr. Sokha said. “We are growing weaker.”
Ms. Chantha said her husband also had health complications due to his lengthy imprisonment. “Every day his stomach hurts, and he has illnesses like high blood pressure, and stomach and cardiac problems,” she said in a telephone call.
At the Supreme Court on Wednesday, Mr. Soksan cited the case’s irregularities, appearing to suggest motives other than jurisprudence for the group’s detention.
“If they accuse us of bribery, according to the law, a person who bribes or receives a bribe commits a crime, so why in our case is it only the people offering the bribe being detained?” he said.
The four defendants’ lawyer, Lor Chunthy, also raised questions about the authorities’ investigative methods.
In the first year of the group’s detention, “there was only one person questioned,” he told reporters. “So why would we need to keep them longer and extend [their detention] before the hearing is set up?”
Before the hearing began, Mr. Vanda questioned why the rights workers were still being detained, given Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling party’s success in the June 4 commune elections.
“Now they have won the election,” Mr. Vanda said. “Why would he detain us?”
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