Pursat Provincial Court has ordered prison officials to stop letting rights workers visit inmates, following the arrests of four men accused of forming an illegal armed force known as the Khmer Empire Movement, authorities said Tuesday.
Officials with local rights groups Licadho and Adhoc said their staff and doctors have been restricted from meeting with inmates at the provincial prison in the wake of the arrests. “We want to know if the suspects have been arrested based on enough evidence and whether or not they have been tortured,” Licadho investigator Nhoung Samoeun said of the four suspects.
Ngeth Theavy, Adhoc’s provincial coordinator, said that she has also been barred from visiting the prison since May 21.
Moeung Horn, the prison’s chief of administration, said provincial court Prosecutor Top Chan Sireyvuth ordered prison officials to ban human rights workers following the arrest of the so-called Empire Movement suspects. “The prosecutor is strict right now,” he said. “He does not allow any human rights officials to interview prisoners.”
Top Chan Sireyvuth confirmed that he ordered the ban, but denied it was related to a specific case. “They have no right or duty to interview prisoners,” he said, adding that prison officials had fallen into a “bad habit” of allowing entry to rights workers.
On May 11, the court charged three Cham Muslim men with plotting to form an illegal armed force aimed at violently taking back Cambodian and Cham territory lost centuries ago to Vietnam and Thailand.
Officials said the Khmer Empire Movement was trying to recruit more than 400 Cham Muslims into an armed militia, though relatives of several of the men have protested their innocence, saying they thought they were working for an NGO.
On May 18, Top Chan Sireyvuth said the court would investigate whether the SRP was behind the plot, though the SRP has firmly denied the allegation.
According to Interior Ministry Spokesman Khieu Sopheak, the suspects have confessed to receiving orders from people living in the US.
US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle wrote in an e-mail that Cambodian authorities provided the embassy with the name of a person on Thursday who they suspect is Cambodian-American tied to the case. “The embassy is conducting a US background check on this name,” Daigle said.
“Although we are not involved in the local investigation, the US believes it is important that the investigation adhere to the principals of due process and the rule of law,” he added.
(Additional reporting by James Welsh)