Cambodia’s Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected an attempt to free four human rights workers and an election official who are awaiting trial in connection with the government’s wide-ranging probe into an alleged affair by opposition party leader Kem Sokha.
The court agreed with the government’s argument that the Kem Sokha Five need to remain in jail while they await trial on charges connected with the investigation in order to prevent them from swaying possible witnesses and causing public unrest.
Two of the defendants told RFA’s Khmer Service that the court was under political pressure to keep them in jail.
“If the courts were independent we would be released,” Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) official Ny Sokha told RFA. “Our case is politically motivated. We will all be released when the political situation is calm.”
On May 2, Cambodian authorities arrested Ny Sokha and fellow ADHOC staffers, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, and Lim Mony, as well as National Election Committee (NEC) Deputy Secretary-General Ny Chakrya for allegedly attempting to pay Khom Chandaraty, Kem Sokha’s purported mistress, hush money.
“We have been treated very unfairly,” Yi Soksan told RFA. “It is in a communist country that human rights workers are mistreated.”
‘They should just kill us all’
Thun Bonitas, Yi Soksan’s wife, lashed out at the government.
“There is no justice for us, for we have been very badly mistreated,” she said. “They should just kill us all rather than letting us live in this unjust society.”
Som Sokhong, an attorney for the five, told RFA that releasing them would help calm Cambodia’s political waters.
“I think it will be good if they are released because then there will be no more Black-Monday campaign,” he said. “The campaign is aimed at demanding for their release. If they are released they can return to work.”
The campaign is named for the color of the clothing demonstrators wear during the Monday protests.
While Black Monday began as an attempt to pressure the government over the arrests, it has morphed into a more generalized campaign against government abuses, including land confiscations, and demands for a thorough investigation into the murder of government critic Kem Ley in July.
The seizure of land for development—often without due process or fair compensation for displaced residents—has been a major cause of protest in Cambodia and other authoritarian Asian countries, including China and Myanmar.
Am Sam Ath, a technical coordinator for human rights group LICADHO, told RFA that keeping the five in jail does little good and helps fan the flames of international criticism.
“So far Cambodia has been under criticism from the national and international communities,” he said. “Some foreign assistance for development has been withheld.”
Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP ) deputy leader Kem Sokha is accused of procuring a prostitute in relation to his alleged affair with hairdresser Khom Chandaraty. Despite being summoned twice in May, he refused to appear in court to answer questions about the allegations and has remained holed up in the party headquarters.
He was convicted on Sept. 9 failing to appear before the court in the case and sentenced to five months in prison and fined 800,000 riel (U.S. $200).
In October, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court extended their detention as it attempts to find more witnesses and evidence in the government's case against the opposition leader.
The charges are viewed by many as an attempt by Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to smear the opposition before local elections in 2017 and national elections in 2018.
Hun Sen and the CPP have ruled the country for more than three decades, but Cambodia’s ruling party suffered a dramatic drop in support during the country’s last election in 2013, and could see even more erosion in the upcoming elections.
Reported for Samnang Rann for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.