Supporters of 18 jailed Cambodian opposition party members, monk activists and land rights campaigners called on foreign embassies in the capital Phnom Penh Tuesday to pressure the government for their release ahead of Human Rights Day.
Around 20 family members of the 18, who are detained at Prey Sar Prison, marched to the embassies of the U.S., Japan, South Korea and several EU nations to petition for intervention in their cases, which rights groups say signal a concerted effort by the authorities to curb dissent and intimidate those speaking up on protection of human rights.
Eight women among those jailed have threatened to go on a hunger strike until they are released.
Protesters shouted during the march that “children have become orphans because the activists have been denied justice,” as well as other slogans criticizing the authorities for the jailings.
Security forces looked on without interfering as representatives from the embassies accepted the group’s petitions.
Local rights group LICADHO said the charges leveled on the 18 were “spurious,” calling for their immediate release.
Seven women land activists were sentenced on Nov. 11 to a year in prison for obstructing traffic during a protest while three others and a monk were sentenced a day later for “aggravating a rebellion” while demonstrating for their release.
An additional two monks were thrown in prison the next day and face charges of “participation in criminal association” for a planned protest over a land dispute.
The remaining five were officials from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) detained in recent weeks for “inciting violence” during a July 15 protest by party supporters at Freedom Park in the capital.
Ou Kong Chea, the husband of veteran campaigner Tep Vanny—who was among the seven activists jailed—told RFA’s Khmer Service that the women had done nothing illegal when they placed a bed in the middle of a busy Phnom Penh thoroughfare to protest flooding in their Boeung Kak community.
“They said that they hadn’t done anything wrong—they were only trying to have the water removed,” he said, referring to protesters’ claims that flooding in the area had been caused by a development project backed by a lawmaker from Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
Ou Kong Chea said that eight of the jailed women planned to launch a hunger strike on Wednesday, which they pledged to continue until they are released.
The march came as LICADHO and two coalitions of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) monitoring womens’ rights released statements Tuesday condemning the arrest, detention and conviction of the 18 activists.
The 72-member NGO Cambodia Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (NGO CEDAW) and the 35-member Cambodian Committee of Women (CAMBOW) called on the government to honor its international commitments ahead of Human Rights Day.
“We urge for the immediate and unconditional release of the 18 persons still detained at [Prey Sar] prison,” the two coalitions said in a statement.
“We especially insist the government should implement the Cambodian Constitution and the international Human Rights treaties it ratified,” the statement said, referring to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Cambodia signed in 1992.
The two coalitions urged the government to abide by its commitment to ensuring its citizens the right to a fair hearing by an independent tribunal, as part of its obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Rights Day Marches