Embassies Keep Wary Eye on Cases Against Rights Workers

Foreign diplomatic missions in Phnom Penh say they are closely watching the handling of the cases of human rights monitors and a national election official charged and jailed on Monday in connection with a sex scandal being prosecuted against an opposition leader.

The five—Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, and Lim Mony of rights group Adhoc and National Election Committee (NEC) deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya—were jailed for allegedly bribing a woman said to be CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha’s mistress to deny an affair.

U.N. official Sally Soen was charged in absentia.

Wan-Hea Lee, the country head for the U.N. Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in an email that the way the five are treated by the courts will prove indicative of the state of the judicial system and its relationship with the rest of the government.

“The handling by the courts of the cases against the staff of Adhoc and NEC is an important test of judicial integrity and independence, with too much having already been aired that would contravene the principle of presumption of innocence,” Ms. Lee said.

“My office will be following these cases closely and hopes to see proceedings fully respect fair trial rights standards,” she said.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has already publicly accused Mr. Soen, the U.N. official, of guilt in the case. The NEC and Adhoc officials were charged apparently for a $204 sum given to the mistress, though no evidence has been released to suggest it was a bribe.

The French Embassy commented that a healthy civil society was key to a flourishing democracy in Cambodia.

“The French Embassy is following closely the situation of current and former Human Rights NGOs employees,” said embassy spokesman Nicolas Baudouin. “It reiterates its support to the work of civil society in Cambodia, one of its key partners for the social, economic and democratic development of the country.”

Fifty-nine NGOs have described the arrests of the human rights workers as “a far-reaching government assault on civil society ahead of upcoming local and national elections,” a conclusion shared by a number of analysts but rejected by the government.

The Japanese Embassy, which has been one of Cambodia’s most generous development partners since the reintroduction of elections in 1993 and which is currently helping to reform the elections system, was muted.

“The Embassy is following the situation with keen interest,” Naoaki Kamoshida, a counselor at the embassy, said yesterday in an email.

Japan’s foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, is currently touring mainland Southeast Asia, visiting Thailand, Burma, Laos and Vietnam but not Cambodia. The embassy in Phnom Penh did not respond to a request for comment about the absence.

Others embassies were even less keen to comment. The Chinese, Russian, Thai and U.K. embassies did not respond to requests for comment about the charges laid against the four human rights workers and elections official.

The Embassy of Australia, which is engaged in a $30 million deal with Cambodia to resettle asylum seekers, would say of the arrests only that it engages Mr. Hun Sen’s government on human rights issue.

“Australia has a close relationship with Cambodia, and the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh regularly engages with the Cambodian Government on a range of human rights issues,” wrote Simon Fellows, a spokesman for the embassy.

Swedish Ambassador Anna Maj Hultgard and the German Embassy’s deputy head of mission, Daniela Dempf, both deferred comment to the E.U. mission. Its ambassador, George Edgar, said on Monday that the E.U. would raise the issue with the government.

“An environment in which political parties and civil society can operate freely is an essential foundation for credible elections whose results will command legitimacy,” Mr. Edgar said in an email.

Also on Monday, the U.S. Embassy said it was “deeply concerned by the charges” against the human rights workers and, like many of the other embassies, would continue to watch the case as it develops.

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