International human rights groups continued to rally around local rights worker Chan Soveth on Friday, two days after it emerged that the Adhoc staff member was summoned by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on charges of aiding an unnamed perpetrator with an unidentified crime.
In a statement, the Geneva-based Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders called on the government to cease its “harassment” of Mr. Soveth, who is set to be questioned at the court next Friday.
“The Observatory expresses its deepest concern about these acts of judicial harassment of Mr. Chan Soveth, since they seem to merely aim at hindering his human rights activities, in a context of continued governmental harassment against human rights defenders, including against other Adhoc members,” the statement said.
“The Observatory therefore calls upon the Cambodian authorities to stop any judicial actions against Mr. Chan Soveth aimed at curbing his legitimate human rights work and to put an end to all acts of harassment against him, as well as against all human rights defenders in Cambodia.”
Mr. Soveth could not be reached on Friday, and Adhoc technical adviser Nicolas Agostini said the organization would not make any comment.
On Tuesday, Adhoc said there appeared to be links between the citation charge against Mr. Soveth and the May suppression of a land dispute in Kratie province by government forces. Prime Minister Hun Sen in a speech had implicated an unnamed NGO worker for being involved in the Kratie dispute.
Shiwei Ye, Asean representative at the International Federation of Human Rights, said it was a concerned that Mr. Soveth’s case appeared to be linked to Mr. Hun Sen. “It is alarming that government intimidation of human rights groups and defenders has been traced all the way to the top of the political leadership,” he said in an email.
“The state of the rule of law in Cambodia is to a large degree measured by the government’s respect for the legitimate work of human rights defenders. Every human rights defender charged or otherwise harassed is an indicator of the breaking down of the rule of law,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Abby Seiff)