The intimidation of human rights and land activists in Cambodia is becoming increasingly commonplace, particularly in areas where illegal logging is entrenched, local rights group Adhoc said Tuesday during a press conference at its Phnom Penh office.
“In the first three months of this year, we have seen an increase in threats, intimidation and lawsuits against community representatives and activists in disputes over land and natural resources,” said Adhoc president Thun Saray.
Mr. Saray said that there have been 48 cases in the first quarter of this year of human rights activists or community representatives being threatened. As defined by Adhoc, threats and intimidation can range from lawsuits and arrests to verbal warnings to stop certain activities.
Though Mr. Saray said Adhoc has seen an increase in threats and intimidation compared to the same period last year, he did not provide quarterly statistics for comparison. In fact, there were a total of 238 cases of intimidation of rights defenders last year, Mr. Saray said, an average of about 60 per three-month period.
“In a majority of these cases, the local authorities, who have power from the people and an obligation to serve them, are consistently making threats to file a lawsuit against village representatives,” Mr. Saray said.
Two of Adhoc’s own rights monitors—Chan Soveth, deputy head of the land section, and Chhay Thy, Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator—have been repeatedly subjected to intimidation by authorities and to police investigations, Mr. Saray said.
Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said that it was likely that Adhoc’s figures were inaccurate and inflated in order to make the situation in Cambodia seem worse than it actually is and to encourage outside support for Adhoc and other human rights groups.
“Such claims have been made without concrete evidence,” Lt. Gen. Sopheak said. “It’s within their freedom of expression to say that police or authorities intimidate them, but we need to think critically about it because local authorities are not monsters that eat Khmer people.”