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Cambodia: Charges Against Rights Workers Should Be Dropped

In a letter sent today to the prosecutor general of the Phnom Penh Appeals Court, Human Rights Watch called for criminal charges against two Cambodian human rights workers to be dropped. Kim Sen and Meas Minear of the human rights organization, Licadho, are scheduled to go on trial on July 8. They are accused of inciting a violent demonstration against toxic waste dumping in Sihanoukville in late December. The prosecutor of the Sihanoukville court, Mourn Mith, was quoted in the Cambodia Daily on June 23 as saying that no human rights group had "officially" written to request that the charges against rights workers be dismissed.

Last month, on the basis of a six-week investigation into this case, we said the charges should be dropped. Now we are asking the prosecutor general to dismiss the charges, on the grounds of both lack of evidence and procedural irregularities," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

Kim Sen and Meas Minear, staff members of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Licadho), were arrested in December 1998 after monitoring public demonstrations against the dumping of toxic waste in Sihanoukville. The demonstrators did not seek official permission for the protest, and some of them vandalized a local hotel and the house of a senior local official. The two Licadho staff had given advice to angry residents on how to stage a nonviolent and lawful protest.

Detained for a month in late December 1998 until they were granted pre-trial release, Kim Sen and Meas Minear were originally charged with committing robbery and property damage under a 1992 criminal code. According to the court summons issued earlier this month, however, Kim Sen and Meas Minear have now been charged under two articles of the 1991 Law on Demonstrations. The articles prohibit the holding of public demonstrations without at least three days advance notice to the authorities. They also prohibit violence or incitement to violence during the demonstrations.

"Far from secretly plotting to incite violent demonstrations, the overwhelming evidence is that the human rights workers took every opportunity to inform local officials," said Jones. "Kim Sen and Meas Minear were simply carrying out their human rights mandate by monitoring the demonstrations and informing citizens of their legal rights to express their grievances peacefully and lawfully."

The full text of the letter follows.

June 24, 1999

Mr. Henrot Raken
Prosecutor General
Phnom Penh Appeals Court
Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia

Dear Mr. Henrot Raken:

We are writing to urge you to drop the charges against. Kim Sen and Meas Minear, two staff members of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Licadho). As you know, they were due to stand trial on June 21, but their attorneys, who did not receive sufficient notice to prepare a defense, urged the court to delay the trial. It is now scheduled to begin on July 8.

We believe the charges should be dropped for several reasons:

Their civil rights have been repeatedly violated through procedural errors. For example, no arrest warrants were produced at the time of their arrests. In addition, as the Court of Appeals has since confirmed, their arrests and detention were improper because the Sihanoukville court did not first review the evidence against them.

There is no evidence whatsoever that Kim Sen and Meas Minear were doing anything other than carrying out their work as human rights defenders at the time of the demonstrations. The primary reason for their presence at the demonstrations was to monitor possible human rights violations that might occur. In addition, in accordance with their human rights mandate, they advised local citizens who were upset by the toxic dumping about human rights and the law.

Far from trying to incite the demonstrators, the two took every opportunity to inform local officials that demonstrations were imminent. When first approached by local residents unhappy about the toxic dumping, Kim Sen telephoned the second deputy governor to relay their complaints. He then advised the residents on how to send a petition to the local authorities, a completely lawful and non-violent way of raising their concerns. At a second meeting with residents, Kim Sen specifically informed them of the requirements of the 1991 Law on Demonstrations. Two Cambodian journalists who attended that meeting have publicly acknowledged thatKim Sen spoke only of a lawful, approved, peaceful demonstration. Finally, when he first learned of the imminent possibility of spontaneous unauthorized demonstrations breaking out, Kim Sen twice telephoned a local police district chief to alert him.
Our appeal to you to drop the charges is based on a six-week investigation we conducted in April and May of this year, during which we interviewed government representatives, eyewitnesses to the demonstrations, journalists, and human rights workers. The prosecutor of the Sihanoukville court, Mourn Mith, was quoted in the Cambodia Daily on June 23 as saying that no human rights group had "officially" written to request that the charges against Kim Sen and Meas Minear be dismissed. We trust this letter serves as such a request.

Sincerely,

Sidney Jones
Executive Director
Asia Division

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