Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday rejected the previous day's "Black Monday" street protests in support of human rights workers who were jailed last week in connection to a political scandal, saying the country's legal system is the proper venue for the case.
"Take the legal process. Finding a way out through a smart lawyer is the right way to resolve the problem legitimately," he said after a ceremony with students in Phnom Penh.
Hun Sen, who ishead of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), rejected "putting pressure by using this or that colors" -- a reference to protest on Monday by about 200 people in solidarity with jailed human rights activists that saw eight demonstrators, including two Westerners, briefly detained.
The five people -- one former and four current officers of the human rights group ADHOC -- were jailed last week on accusations they conspired to bribe a woman to deny that she was the mistress with deputy leader Kem Sokha of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
A joint statement issued by 74 civil societies on Tuesday condemned the Hun Sen government's escalation of intimidation against human rights defenders and called for the release on bail of the five human rights activists awaiting trial.
Lawyer Suon Bunsak, head of the secretariat of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), tolf RFA's Khmer Service that past experience offered "little hope" that the activists can receive justice in Cambodia's judicial system.
"Many people have lost their trust in the court," he added.
Cambodia's Interior Ministry meanwhile reiterated the government's rejection of immunity for Soeun Sally, a staff member of the U.N. human rights office in Phnom Penh detained in connection with the scandal investigation.
"See his citizenship, Khmer or U.N. citizenship, Khmer or U.S. citizenship… Whatever citizenship, if (he acted) against the law then he has no immunity at all, ” said interior ministry spokesman Khiev Sopheak.
“As stated by Prime Minister Hun Sen, whatever immunity you might have, if you are against the Cambodia’s law, you are arrested. That’s it."
Political tensions between the CNRP and the CPP have grown worse in recent months, with the government arresting more than a dozen opposition lawmakers including Senator Hong Sok Hour, CNRP media director Meach Sovannara, and Um Sam An, an opposition member of parliament.
Reported by Cheng Mengchou and Morm Moniroth for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Paul Eckert.