Nearly 140 civil society organizations on Wednesday condemned a decision by Cambodia’s Supreme Court to uphold a five-year jail term for five current and former workers for ADHOC, the country’s oldest human rights group, on bribery charges, calling it politically motivated and an example of the judiciary’s lack of independence.
The organizations called the Nov.18 decision to uphold the five-year sentences against the so-called ADHOC 5 “unjust” and a reflection of how the ruling Cambodian People’s Party uses the judicial system to persecute rights defenders.
The court provided no reason for its decision against Ny Sokha, Lim Mony, and Yi Soksan, and former officials Nay Vanda and Ny Chakra, who is also the secretary of the National Election Committee.
The government should be encouraging rights campaigners instead of targeting them for the work they do, said Soeung Sen Karuna, an ACHOC spokesman.
“Citizens, civil society organizations and politicians have suffered because of our country’s law enforcement system,” he said. “This is something we don’t want to see in Cambodian society.”
The statement was signed by ADHOC, the Independent Democratic Association of Informal Economy, CENTRAL, Equitable Cambodia, the Cambodian Youth Network and the Peace Bridge Organization, as well as other groups.
In June 2017, Lim Mony, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, and Nay Vanda, and Ny Chakrya were released from prison after 427 days of pre-trial detention amid a wide-ranging probe into a purported affair by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party’s then-President Kem Sokha.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court later convicted the former four of bribery, and Ny Chakra of accessory to bribery, for attempting to keep Kem Sokha’s alleged mistress quiet.
Call for reforms
In addition to condemning the ruling, Wednesday’s statement also called on Cambodia’s judiciary and relevant institutions to “strengthen the implementation of the legal system … to be fully fair and in accordance with the principles of the rule of law” enshrined in the country’s constitution and in the United Nations charter.
It urged the National Assembly, or parliament, to review the content of the laws used to convict the Adhoc 5 and amend them to ensure that rights defenders cannot be persecuted for carrying out humanitarian work.
Attempts by RFA to reach government spokesman Phay Siphan for comment on the court decision went unanswered Wednesday.
However, CPP spokesman Sok Ey San dismissed the collective statement as “useless,” saying only the court has the right to make decisions in this case.
“The court is the one who made the judgment, but the accused blame the government,” he said. “CSOs should better acquaint themselves with the law. Then they would know that the government can’t interfere in court decisions.”
Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.