Three human rights NGOs on Tuesday said they were “temporarily” blocked this month from visiting imprisoned staff members of rights group Adhoc and an election official who have been jailed for nearly a year without trial.
Adhoc and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) said their requests in the last month to visit four Adhoc staffers and National Election Committee (NEC) official Ny Chakrya were rejected by court officials. They said they were not given a reason or told when the temporary ban would be lifted.
The Adhoc officers and Mr. Chakrya, a former Adhoc employee, have been detained since late last April over bribery accusations in relation to a government investigation of an alleged sex scandal involving opposition leader Kem Sokha. The accused say they were providing legal services to a witness, Mr. Sokha’s alleged mistress.
Duch Piseth, advocacy director for the CCHR, said on Tuesday that the organization had planned to visit the five on Thursday, the day before the one-year anniversary of their detention, to show support.
“We intended to visit them and update those detainees” about the campaign seeking their release, Mr. Piseth said.
CCHR submitted its request to visit the detainees early this month and received a response from an investigating judge on April 12 stating that “only family members and lawyers could visit them in prison,” Mr. Pisith said.
“I’m not really sure about the rationale behind the ban,” he said.
Since late February, CCHR has been required to provide the names and positions of people asking to visit the five prisoners, while in the early months of their detention, the organization only sent the number of visitors with its requests, he said.
“They need more information, which we believe is unnecessary,” he said.
Adhoc spokesman Sam Chankea said a court clerk’s assistant informed the organization that “the court temporarily suspended visits” to see the five prisoners.
Adhoc submitted its request to visit its jailed colleagues and Mr. Chakrya on March 31, received notice of the court’s denial on April 6 and have yet to submit another request, he said. They intended to visit the prisoners a few days before Khmer New Year.
“We do not know the reason why the court did not allow our Adhoc officials to visit the prisoners,” Mr. Chankea said. “But I think that the ban is to put pressure on the jailed people and also our Adhoc officials.”
Sous Vithearandy, spokesman for the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s judges, denied that the court had rejected Adhoc’s request, adding that prison visits were allowed at judges’ discretion.
“We have told Adhoc officials to submit a letter with the court in advance, and the investigating judge will make a decision about whether they will allow them to visit the prisoners or not,” Mr. Vithearandy said.
“In some cases, the judges do not allow people to visit prisoners because they think that the visit will affect the court procedure during the investigating process,” he said.
In October, the investigating judge extended the prisoners’ provisional detention by six months, citing the need for further investigation.
The original six-month period ends this week, but can be extended for an additional six months.
Asked if NGO workers are currently allowed to visit the five prisoners, Mr. Vithearandy said he did not know “because this is the right of the judge and he did not tell me about that.”
Naly Pilorge, Licadho’s deputy director of advocacy, said the rights group’s medical team was also denied access to three of the Adhoc staffers who are being held in Correctional Center 1 (CC1) of Prey Sar prison during a visit to provide treatment to prisoners earlier this month.
“But we were able to treat the other political prisoners and other detainees,” about 40 in total, Ms. Pilorge said. Licadho medical staff were able to provide treatment to Mr. Chakrya on Tuesday during a visit to PJ Prison and were scheduled to return to CC1 next week, she said.
The wives of two of the five prisoners confirmed on Tuesday that the NGOs had not been allowed to visit their husbands for about a month.
“Before, if those NGOs went to visit them, they needed to submit a letter to the Interior Ministry or courts. But now they won’t give permission,” said Men Leakenana, the wife of Ny Sokha, Adhoc’s head of monitoring.
(Additional reporting by Ben Sokhean and Ben Paviour)