Nearly 80 international and Cambodian civil society groups have signed a joint statement urging the government to halt its crackdown on activists and release five current and former senior officials of rights group Adhoc who have been awaiting trial since May.
The statement released on Sunday by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights coincides with today’s hearing at the Supreme Court for four of the officials, who have been detained on bribery charges in a case widely perceived to be politically motivated.
The officials, who will again dispute the legality around their arrests and detention, have been denied bail six times and spent 311 days in prison, according to Sunday’s statement.
“We…strongly condemn the brazen attacks carried out against Cambodian human rights defenders (HRDs) over recent weeks, in what appears to be a deliberate strategy by the Cambodian authorities to punish and deter any expression of dissent ahead of the upcoming commune and national elections,” says the statement signed by 78 groups.
“We are alarmed by the escalating severity of the government’s crackdown on fundamental freedoms, which has seen HRDs targeted with threats, judicial harassment and even violence,” it continues.
Ny Sokha, Adhoc’s head of monitoring, his deputies Nay Vanda and Yi Soksan, and senior investigator Lim Mony were charged in May for allegedly bribing a mistress of opposition CNRP President Kem Sokha to deny an affair.
Ny Chakrya, deputy secretary-general of the National Election Committee and a former Adhoc employee, was charged as an accomplice and is being detained at Phnom Penh’s PJ Prison. His hearing has been split from the others and is scheduled for March 24.
More than three months have passed since the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention concluded that the five had been discriminated against for their human rights work and called on the government to release them.
Chak Sopheap, the executive director of the human rights center, said the ongoing detention was breaking international law.
“For every additional day that the #FreeThe5KH detainees remain in arbitrary detention, Cambodia continues to be in violation of its binding legal obligations under international human rights law,” she said in an email.
“By trying to silence brave human rights defenders, who play a crucial role in speaking out about rights abuses and defending the rights of others, the Cambodian authorities have shown that they only see critical speech as something to be deterred, punished or ignored,” she added.