Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday added its voice to the criticism of Cambodia’s judiciary for defamation charges brought against Ny Chakyra, a senior human rights advocate who accused two judicial officials in Siem Reap province of misconduct in their handling of a land dispute.
The charges of defamation and attempted coercion of court officials relate to two press conferences Mr. Chakyra, head of monitoring at Adhoc, gave in May claiming that an investigating judge and a provincial prosecutor had unlawfully arrested and imprisoned two farmers in Svay Loeu district over their land dispute with an agricultural firm.
“Citizens in Cambodia, as elsewhere, have the right to criticize government authorities, including court officials, without facing criminal charges,” Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, said in a statement.
“To imprison or otherwise sanction a human rights defender for bringing a complaint against Cambodia’s politically controlled and notoriously corrupt judiciary would be the height of hypocrisy.”
The statement comes a day after the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia accused the activist of legal malpractice—based on claims that Adhoc lawyers are instructed to hand over confidential case documents to Mr. Chakrya—and follows similar criticism last week from the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders.
Contacted Thursday, Adhoc president Thun Saray stood by his chief monitor.
“Ny Chakyra was only doing his job by supporting those who were detained arbitrarily by the court,” he said, adding that a recent Adhoc report detailed judicial harassment in the arrest and detention of hundreds of people involved in land disputes.
Contacted Thursday, Ministry of Justice spokesman Chhin Malin said the country’s courts rely on evidence, facts and legal procedure, and dismissed HRW’s criticism as irrelevant.
“[HRW’s] request that Cambodia order the court to drop the charges against Ny Chakriya is itself interference in the independence of the court’s authority,” he said.
“Their statement is to be expected. If was a statement supporting the government, then it would be strange.”