A court in Cambodia on Thursday extended by six months the pre-trial detention of five human rights defenders already held for a year on bribery charges in a ruling one detainee described as “nothing new” from a judiciary he said lacks independence from the country’s government.
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 while their case is investigated further, citing a need to interview more witnesses.
ADHOC officials Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Nay Vanda, and 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 amid a wide-ranging probe into a purported affair by opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha.
Authorities charged the ADHOC officials with bribery and the NEC official with accessory to bribery for attempting to keep the Kem Sokha’s alleged mistress quiet. Only one witness has been questioned in the case, which is widely seen as politically motivated.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service after the ruling, Ny Sokha said he had expected the decision.
“I’m not surprised at all by the ruling of this Cambodian court, which is not independent,” he said.
“The court is operated by remote control rather than autonomously. There is nothing new about this.”
Ny Sokha’s son Ny Chansetha also told RFA he had anticipated the extension.
“The court ruling is the product of a copy and paste approach—whatever the court ruled six months ago has been copied and pasted to this current ruling and nothing is new except a change of the date,” he said.
“I feel very bad and frustrated as there is nothing I can do to help him out. I will simply have to wait and see for another six months.”
Ny Chakrya’s lawyer Som Sokong said he could see no justification in holding his client for six months beyond the year already spent behind bars.
“Detaining charged persons for the purpose of holding hearings is bad policy and also infringes on their rights,” he said.
“They should be entitled to expeditious trial proceedings—they can’t be detained just for the sake of the hearings.”
According to the Phnom Penh Post, a court clerk told local media on Wednesday that a judge had already decided to extend the detention of the five, though he denied having said so hours later.
The Post cited defense lawyers as saying that the apparent mistake was evidence that the continued detention of their clients was a foregone conclusion.
It quoted Adhoc lawyer Lor Chunty as calling Thursday’s extension unreasonable “because in the last six months there has been little investigation.”
On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch called on the Cambodian government to “immediately release” the five detainees, which it said had been “falsely charged.”
“Cambodia’s donors should publicly call for the release and dropping of bogus charges against the ‘ADHOC Five,’ which were instigated by Prime Minister Hun Sen to intimidate and suppress human rights work,” Human Rights Watch Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement.
“These human rights defenders are in jail as part of a campaign to destroy the opposition and scare Cambodian human rights workers into silence.”
The statement by Human Rights Watch came as the detainees were collectively named as a finalist for the 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 Samnang Rann for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.