Cambodian Activists Petition Japan, UN for Union Leader’s Release

ohchr-cambodia-crop.jpg A group of activists petition the United Nations High Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights for assistance in securing the release of detained union leader Rong Chhun, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, August 24, 2020.

Two separate groups of supporters of jailed Cambodian union leader Rong Chhun petitioned a UN office and the Japanese embassy in Phnom Penh for their help in securing his release, ahead of his scheduled court appearance this week, the petitioners told RFA Monday.

Rong Chhun was officially charged with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” under Article 495 of Cambodia’s Penal Code and jailed at Prey Sar Prison in Phnom Penh on Aug 1, a day after his arrest for claiming the government has allowed Vietnam to encroach on farmland along their shared border. His arrest has prompted nearly daily protests.

Rong Chhun will appear in court Wednesday to appeal a previous ruling that denied his release on bail.

“We urged the UN Office on Human Rights to remind the Cambodian government to restore its shrinking respect for human rights. We want our country to move toward true democracy,”Em Bun Narith, a representative of the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association, told reporters outside the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia Monday.

He and a group of 19 other activists representing 16 organizations held a rally in front of the office after submitting their petition. Among the activists were schoolteachers, unionists, youth group members, and relatives of detainees.

“[Rong Chhun] has been placed in a small crowded unhygienic cell, which also has unclean water, and he has been infected with scabies all over his body,” Em Bun Narith said.

Long Rim, a public schoolteacher told the reporters that the office accepted the petition.

“The UN Office told us that it has been watching the situation very closely and they will do their best in accordance with the law to intervene for Rong Chhun’s release,” said Long Rim.

Japanese Embassy receives petition

As they rallied in front of the UN office, the petitioners were closely watched by law enforcement. They then attempted to march to the Japanese Embassy, but were stopped by police, who ordered them to ride there instead of walking.

The group refused and decided to postpone their plan to submit the petition to Japan and several other embassies.

But seven members of the Tumpeang Khmer Youth organization were able to submit a similar petition at the embassy.

One member of the group, Sul Sophal, told RFA prior to entering the embassy that the group was worried that they would not come away from the incident unscathed.

“Even though we were worried about our safety, we still came out to seek justice for our jailed brothers and sisters,” she said.

An embassy representative told the group that the petition would reach the Japanese ambassador. The group was also under close watch by human rights monitors and security forces, both in and out of uniform.

No violence was reported from either location.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sum Sok Ry. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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