(New York) – Cambodian authorities should immediately quash the politically motivated convictions of five human rights defenders, Human Rights Watch said today. All five defendants, current and former staff members of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), were sentenced on September 26, 2018, to five years in prison minus the 14 months they spent in pretrial detention. The court then suspended imposition of the sentence.
“These baseless convictions show that Prime Minister Hun Sen intends to persecute human rights defenders even after cementing his power through July’s sham election,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “It’s clear Hun Sen’s pardon of political prisoners after the election was just a public relations effort to regain international legitimacy.”
Four defendants – Nay Vanda, Ny Sokha, Lim Mony, and Yi Soksan – are senior staff members at ADHOC. The fifth, Ny Chakrya, a former senior ADHOC staff member, is deputy secretary-general at the National Election Committee. In 2017, the five were nominated as finalists for the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.
The guilty verdicts followed a deeply flawed one-day trial on September 18 on a fabricated charge of “bribery of a witness.” All five spent 14 months in arbitrary pretrial detention pending a judicial investigation into the charge. The investigation aimed to implicate ADHOC in the politically motivated prosecution of Kem Sokha, opposition leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). On June 29, 2017, the investigating judge sent the case to trial, but released the five rights defenders on bail because several had serious health problems.
The case arose in 2016 from ADHOC’s provision of legal assistance to a victim of government harassment, Khem Chandaraty (also referred to as Srey Mom), whom the government alleged had an extramarital relationship with Kem Sokha. During the trial on September 18, 2018, the defense was denied the right to challenge testimony by Srey Mom and a key witness, Srey Mom’s lawyer. The prosecution failed to present any credible evidence to prove that a witness had in fact been given a bribe or to identify the alleged bribed witness.
In mid-2016, while in pretrial detention, Ny Chakrya was also convicted and sentenced to six months in prison on separate baseless defamation charges that arose from his human rights work at ADHOC. On September 26, 2018, the Supreme Court summoned him to court for the final appeal stage before enforcement of the sentence. The charges appear to have been filed to prevent him from carrying out his duties at the National Election Committee in an independent manner. The verdict is expected on October 1.
Cambodia has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which enshrines the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. Trials in Cambodia’s government-controlled courts systematically fail to uphold the right of criminal suspects to a fair trial.
“Foreign governments and donors should react strongly to these convictions or they can expect more and more cases,” Adams said. “The recent pardons followed international pressure, so now is the time to turn up the heat so that Hun Sen understands there will be significant costs if he doesn’t reverse course.”