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Defending Human Rights

Some forty Cambodian nongovernmental human rights organizations were active nationally in human rights education and investigating abuses. Rights groups that engaged in high-profile advocacy and investigations, however, were subject to government-sponsored attacks in the Cambodian press as well as threats of prosecution or physical harm. In August, rights workers investigating extrajudicial executions in Kratie were followed by soldiers, who then made a late-night visit to the offices of one rights group. . Local and national authorities, including the prime minister, made threatening statements against the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), a coalition of human rights organizations, after it publicly condemned the executions and "disappearances." He accused the CHRAC of "protecting criminals who havekilled people." On August 29, in what appeared likely to become the strongest move against rights organizations in eight years, the Ministry of Defense announced that it would file defamation charges against the CHRAC because of its public statement. As of October, no charges had actually been filed.

In March, Phnom Penh authorities threatened to arrest Licadho staff members after the group provided humanitarian assistance to ethnic Vietnamese lacking proper work authorization. The same month, authorities in Koh Kong province threatened to arrest workers from the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (known by its acronym, ADHOC) in connection with a trafficking case, when a woman who had sold her daughter brought charges of physical assault against ADHOC's provincial coordinator. The woman later withdrew her complaint and admitted that she had been pressured by police to file the complaint. In October 1999, three suspects were arrested in conjunction with the December 1998 killing of Pourng Tong, an activist member of ADHOC. In March 2000, however, the suspects were released. In October, a soldier threatened to shoot not only SRP parliamentarian Cheam Channy but also U.N. human rights workers who had intervened on Channy's behalf.

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