A Phnom Penh court charged six people on Monday for allegedly attempting to hush up a woman who is at the center of a sex scandal involving a top official with the opposition party.
Officials accused four members the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), a member of the country’s election commission and a UN worker of instructing the woman to deny her alleged relationship with Cambodian National Rescue Party lawmaker Kem Sokha.
ADHOC staffers Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan and Lim Mony were detained at the notorious Prey Sar prison, while NEC Deputy Secretary-General Ny Chakrya is in custody of the Phnom Penh Police commissioner, officials told RFA.
The fate of UN staffer Sally Soen is unknown, but Cambodian Anti-Corruption Unit chief Om Yentieng said a warrant was issued for her arrest.
Court officials said the ADHOC workers were charged under Article 548 of the criminal code for bribing a witness, whereas Ny Chakrya and Soen are charged as accomplices.
While the court is seeking charges under the Article 548, it is unclear what grounds there are for the charge.
Attorneys for the ADHOC staffers and Ny Chakyra told RFA’s Khmer Service the government’s case looked thin, as prosecutors have not said any bribe money changed hands.
While Hun Sen and the Cambodian People’s Party have ruled Cambodia for three decades, the CNRP has made inroads in the recent elections.
Opposition party officials and human rights workers see the moves as an attempt by Hun Sen and his followers to quash any potential rivals.
Hundreds of government security forces were deployed outside the Phnom Penh courthouse in an effort to keep at bay the hundreds of protestors demanding justice on Monday.
"The charges brought against the six human rights defenders are blatantly politically motivated and a direct attack against those serving the people who fall prey to Cambodia’s government,” said Naly Pilorge, director of the Cambodian human rights group LICADHO.
“These mounting attacks represent an alarming tightening of the noose around civil society and those who work to uphold human rights, and clearly show that the government’s ultimate aim is total control ahead of the upcoming elections,” she added.
Questions about the government’s motives in the sensational case are being reinforced by attempts by a top official to sue government critic Ou Virak, who heads the Future Forum think tank.
In reference to the sex scandal Ou Virak said on an RFA radio program that the ruling party’s strategy is to put pressure Kem Sokha and his finances.
Sok Eysan, the CPP’s spokesman demanded 4 hundred million riel ($100,000) as a compensation for defamation.
The suit was filed soon after Prime Minister Hun Sen posted a message in his Facebook page saying: “The CPP has sued Future Forum Ou Virak in Phnom Penh Court.”
Ou Virak told RFA that he was waiting for the court summons before deciding what to do, but said he was worried more about the chilling effect the government’s actions will have on young people.
Earlier this month prosecutors told local media that Khem Chandaraty admitted that it was her voice on leaked audio recordings of conversations between herself and Kem Sokha. The recordings were posted on her Facebook page, which she said was hacked.
Although she previously denied that the voices belonged to her and Kem Sokha, she recanted her story last week under questioning by police on charges of prostitution and false testimony.
Kem Sokha has refused to address the allegations.
Wan-Hea Lee, the UN High Commission for Human Rights representative in Cambodia, told RFA’s Khmer Service that the UN has asked the government for an explanation, saying UN workers receive a degree of immunity.
“UN officials have immunity from legal processes arising from their actions undertaken in the line of duty,” she said. “The UN seeks to find together with the Royal Government a mutually agreeable way to cooperate with the proceedings.”
While the UN was taking a measured approach, Wan-Hea Lee said the arrests were a concern.
“The handling by the courts of the cases against the staff of Adhoc and NEC is an important test of judicial integrity and independence, with too much having already been aired that would contravene the principle of presumption of innocence,” she said.
“My office will be following these cases closely and hopes to see proceedings fully respect fair trial rights standards,” she added.
Politicians take sides
On Sunday, Hun Sen rejected the UN’s immunity defense, telling port workers at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port yesterday, that immunity won’t help anyone if they had committed a crime.
“Please, all NGOs or workers at United Nations, do not depend on immunity,” the Phnom Penh Post reported. “You may have the mother or father of all immunities, but when it comes time to arrest you – you will be jailed.”
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, called the ruling party a “stupid group” for using the Anti-Corruption Unit to “ill-treat” civil society groups and the opposition – likening it to treatment meted out by Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, according to an article in the Phnom Penh Post
“Now there are more and more new events showing clearly that they [the government] do not have any different way of getting rid of us besides provoking us continuously,” said Rainsy according to the report.
Sam Rainsy has been staying in France or traveling since an arrest warrant was issued for him in November over a 2008 defamation case and he was removed from offices and stripped of his legislative immunity
“Please do not be afraid at all,” he said. “On the contrary, [we] must strengthen our spirit and unite together.”
Reported by Tha Thai and Khe Sonorng for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.