Cambodia: ARTICLE 19 demands #Free5KH

Almost a year since their arbitrary detention, ARTICLE 19 joins the global call for the release of detained Cambodian Human Rights Defenders known as the ‘Khmer Five’.

Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Nay Vanda, Lim Mony, and Ny Chakrya, current and former staff members of human rights and development NGO, ADHOC, have been arbitrarily detained on bribery charges for close to a year, on what are widely seen as trumped up and politically-motivated charges. They have been repeatedly denied bail and their detention comes amidst an increased crackdown on civil society that has seen arrests multiply and mounting legal restrictions on legitimate activity by human rights activists.

United Nations mechanisms have been public in their condemnation of this crackdown and the continued detention of the Khmer Five.

At last month’s Human Rights Council session, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights made reference to the worsening situation for human rights defenders in Cambodia stating that:

“the pre-electoral period has featured a host of charges and threats against members of opposition parties and people exercising freedom of expression. Amendments to the Law on Political Parties, which were recently passed by Parliament without public consultation, permit indefinite de facto suspension of parties without due process, and fall far below human rights standards for freedom of association. The arbitrary pre-trial detention of human rights defenders from the Cambodia Human Rights and Development Association, ADHOC, has now surpassed 10 months, with no trial in sight. […] I stress that credible elections must be grounded in guarantees that courts will be independent and impartial, and that the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association will be protected.”

In January of this year, the Special Rapporteur for Cambodia joined international calls for their release, making clear that:

“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 is incompatible with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, (ICCPR), which has been signed by Cambodia”

Further, in November 2016, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNWGAD) concluded that the continued detention of the Khmer Five was arbitrary and in contravention of Cambodia’s commitment under the ICCPR. UNWGAD thus called for their immediate release.

In March, ARTICLE 19 joined 78 international and Cambodian civil society groups to condemn the worsening crackdown on dissent in the lead up to commune and national elections in Cambodia, calling on the government to cease their unlawful attacks on human rights defenders and comply with their responsibility to adhere to legally binding international human rights standards.

The detention of the ADHOC current and former staff members sits within a worrying context of dangerous government rhetoric, restrictive legislation, and judicial harassment of human rights defenders. In August 2016, Tep Vanny, a high-profile land rights activist, was arrested while protesting for the release of the Khmer Five. She has since been convicted and sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment for ‘intentional violence with aggravated circumstance’ in a case dating back to 2013, related to a protest outside Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Phnom Penh mansion. The recent intensified crackdown creates an environment which further curtails freedom of expression and dramatically impacts on democratic participation, particularly in the context of upcoming elections.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Cambodian government to immediately release the Khmer Five and other detained HRDs, including high profile activist, Tep Vanny, and to remove illegitimate restrictions on freedom of expression and association so that a vibrant Cambodian civil society can flourish and contribute to improved accountability, democratic participation, and an advancement of human rights throughout the country.