The U.N.’s special rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia condemned the government on Wednesday over the continued detention of the “Adhoc Five,” saying that any improvements to the judiciary were being compromised by the case.
“With so much effort and resources invested in improving the functioning of the judiciary, which had begun to see improvements in some respects, all that is lost with these cases,” Rhona Smith said in a news release.
“It’s time for their release,” she said of the five current and former officers for rights group Adhoc, whose detention sparked “Black Monday” protests.
“As long as Black Monday protests are banned, protesters arrested and convicted, and threats against them condoned, any claims that Cambodia respects human rights will be severely compromised.”
The statement is the first since the government and the U.N.’s human rights office signed a new memorandum of understanding last month, days before a government deadline threatened to shut down the office.
The government has insisted that the five—jailed 39 weeks ago for allegedly bribing a mistress of acting CNRP President Kem Sokha to deny an affair —are not political prisoners.
Ms. Smith appeared to disagree, denouncing “The use of criminal provisions as a pretext to suppress and prevent the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression and to silence human rights defenders.”
Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said Ms. Smith had changed her tune since her last visit in October. “When Rhona Smith was here…she did not talk like that,” he said.