Government Slammed for Arrests of NGO Officers

Four senior officials of local rights group Adhoc and a Na­tion­al Election Committee (NEC) official were arrested by the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) on Thurs­day night over allegations that they instructed an alleged mistress of deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha to deny their affair.

The five are the latest casualties of what political analysts have de­scribed as a wave of intimidation unleashed by the government in advance of the next election cycle.

(Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Speaking to reporters on Fri­day morning, ACU Chairman Om Yentieng said that all five—Adhoc senior investigator Lim Mony; the group’s head of monitoring, Ny Sokha; his deputies Nay Vanda and Yi Soksan; and NEC dep­uty secretary-general Ny Chak­rya, who is also Ny So­kha’s predecessor—were ar­rest­ed at the ACU’s Phnom Penh head­quarters at 8 p.m. on Thursday.

“We arrested five people, in­cluding four Adhoc officials and one NEC official,” Mr. Yentieng said.

He said they had been arrested for “corruption” but refused to be more specific, adding that the five were still in custody at the ACU compound.

The rights workers were questioned by the ACU for a second day on Thursday after 25-year-old hairdresser Khom Chandaraty admitted to having had an affair with Mr. Sokha under questioning at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court last week and later accused the group of having convinced her to deny it.

She also accused Adhoc law­yer Try Chhuon, women’s rights advocate Thida Khus, U.N. official Sally Soen and opposition commune chief Seang Chet of having per­suaded her to lie. Mr. Chet was jailed on bribery char­ges on Wednes­day for allegedly paying Ms. Chandaraty $500 to deny the affair.

Mr. Yentieng said on Friday that the ACU did not arrest Ms. Chhuon or Ms. Khus—who were also questioned by the ACU on Thursday—because they had not committed any offense.

“Thida Khus and a lawyer [Ms. Chhuon], their answers were clear­er than the answers of the accused,” he said. “We believe their answers—that they were not involved.”

The ACU chairman said Mr. Soen, an official at the U.N.’s local human rights office, who did not appear for questioning on Thurs­day, could be brought to the ACU’s headquarters by force if he re­fused to heed future summonses.

“If we summon him and he doesn’t come to answer, we will issue a warrant to bring him in,” Mr. Yentieng said.

The ACU has until 8 p.m. on Saturday to question the detain­ees before sending them the mu­nicipal court, he added.

The decision to arrest Mr. Chak­rya and the four Adhoc officers came under fire from political analysts and rights groups on Fri­day, who said the government was reverting back to its tried-and-tested attempts to intimidate those they perceived as flying the flag of the opposition CNRP.

“The government is manufacturing a crisis to go after ADHOC, which is a human rights group that has consistently exposed wrong­doing by government officials,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, said in an email.

“This is pure intimidation of civil society, it’s clear that Hun Sen wants to put ADHOC out of business, or so badly damage them that they never dare challenge the CPP or the government again.”

Mr. Robertson said the ruling CPP was employing old tactics to muzzle the CNRP ahead of up­coming elections.

“The CPP is [baring] its fangs at civil society, showing that it can attack and destroy any NGO it wants whenever it wants,” he said.

“It seems that in advance of the 2017 commune elections and the 2018 nation-wide elections, the CPP is going back to its old tactics of spreading fear and intimidating those who have demanded an end to the government’s rights abuses, and sought accountability and justice for victims whose rights have been violated.”

Ou Virak, a prominent political analyst who was sued for defamation by the CPP this past week af­ter cri­ticizing the government in an interview, also said the ruling par­ty was reverting to using an iron fist to pressure the opposition.

“I think this is pretty clear. If you look at it, it seems to be a lot of attempts to put pressure on the opposition—and I think in the hope that the opposition will have an internal conflict,” he said.

Mr. Virak said the motives be­hind the pursuit of Mr. Soen, the U.N. official, were less clear, and that the move could backfire if it at­tracted the attention of the organization’s upper echelons.

“In a strange way, it’s actually a good thing in disguise, because I think it will be getting U.N. attention from the highest level be­cause I think the U.N. cannot just allow the harassment of one of its staff,” he said.

According to the 1946 Con­vention on Privileges and Im­munities of the United Nations, U.N. officials are “immune from legal process in respect of words spoken or written and all acts performed by them in their official capacity.”

Adhoc president Thun Saray said on Friday that he was dismayed by the arrests of some of his most experienced staff members and affirmed that the rights group had always acted impartially.

“I think it’s very unfair for my colleagues. They didn’t do anything wrong, according to my knowledge. I think it’s threatening the spirits of the human rights activists. For 25 years, we have tried to educate the people, the police, government officials, and provide legal advice to many people.”

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