The children of two rights defenders facing bribery charges in Cambodia said Friday that their families faced serious hardship during the year their parents have spent in prison and expressed hope they might be freed, despite a recent court ruling that extended their pre-trial detention by six months.
ADHOC official Lim Mony and National Election Committee (NEC) deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya have been held for 12 months at Prey Sar Prison in the capital—along with Lim Mony’s colleagues Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, and Nay Vanda—amid a wide-ranging probe into a purported affair by opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha.
Authorities have charged the ADHOC officials with bribery and the NEC official—who is also a former ADHOC official—with accessory to bribery for attempting to keep Kem Sokha’s alleged mistress quiet. Together, the five are collectively known as the “ADHOC 5.”
On Thursday, Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Theam Chanpiseth met with the five detainees and their lawyers at a closed hearing and informed them they would need to remain behind bars for up to six more months while their case is investigated further, citing a need to interview more witnesses.
Only one witness has been questioned during their year-long detention and the case has been dismissed as politically motivated by both local and international observers.
Speaking with RFA’s Khmer Service on Friday, Ny Chakrya’s son Ny Chansetha said that his father is the breadwinner of his family, and his detention “seriously affects” the household.
“He has always generated income for the family, advised the children and taken good care of his wife,” he said.
“But now, he is being held far from us and this makes me feel very sorry and makes life really difficult.”
Ny Chansetha said he was particularly concerned for his infant brother, who was born just ten months ago while his father was already in prison.
“My youngest brother has never received proper care from his father,” he said.
“He was able to meet him at the jail for only 20-30 minutes or so, and I don’t feel this is enough for my brother,” he added.
“I hope the government will release my father one day.”
‘I cannot live peacefully’
Lim Mony’s daughter, Un Bunnary, told RFA that her mother was also the main income provider for her family, and that she missed her advice and assistance.
“This doesn’t mean that I totally depended on her, but [her detention] affects my mental state, as well as that of my family and … [even] those who know us,” she said.
“They all feel pity for her, as she is an old woman who has been made to suffer such injustice. Honestly, such a thing should never have occurred, since she has never done anything wrong.”
Un Bunnary said she has always been close with her mother, and that the two of them never missed seeing one another each day.
“But when she is in jail, I cannot live peacefully,” she said.
“Sometimes, when I eat a delicious meals or sleep well at home, I get a feeling that I should not have this luxury because I know my mother doesn’t. I don’t know how she is able to [endure] the jail.”
Un Bunnary said her mother regularly tells her that she is doing well in detention, but admitted she has her doubts.
“My mom is good at tolerating things, so I think she may have faced a lot of hardships in prison [but not told me],” she said.
“I know she may be afraid that I am too concerned for her.”
Calls for release
In response to the court ruling to extend the pre-trial detention of the ADHOC 5, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) on Friday called for Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government to “release without delay” the five rights defenders.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights spokesperson Elizabeth Throssell also expressed regret that their detention was extended, despite an opinion by the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention last November that they be freed.
“While we recognize the obligation of the investigative judge to thoroughly investigate the case, the use of pre-trial detention should be the exception, rather than the rule, and be allowed only for the shortest possible time necessary, on the basis of clear evidence and valid legal reasoning,” Throssell said.
“We regret that these safeguards appear not to have been followed at any of the bail hearings.”
Also on Friday, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders called the one-year anniversary of the ADHOC 5’s pre-trial detention “a new low for the Cambodian government” and demanded their “immediate and unconditional release.”
In a statement, the Observatory said it “condemns the court’s decision [to extend their detention] as the latest act of judicial harassment against the five,” and condemned their ongoing imprisonment as “a blatant breach of Cambodia’s international human rights obligations.”
On April 26, the detainees were collectively named as a finalist for the 2017 Martin Ennals Award, which provides protection and support to human rights defenders deemed at risk.
The award will be presented on Oct. 10 in Geneva.
Reported by Sel San for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.