Arbitrary detention / Judicial harassment /
Obstacles to freedom of peaceful assembly
September 25, 2020
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Cambodia.
Description of the situation:
The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the ongoing arbitrary detention of six human rights defenders in relation to a peaceful assembly that was to take place at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh on September 7, 2020 in order to demand the release of Mr. Rong Chhun and other imprisoned human rights defenders.
According to the information received, on September 6, 2020, Mr. Koet Saray, a Buddhist monk and a member of the Khmer Thavrak youth group, and Mr. Mean Prommony, Vice-President of the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association (KSILA), were arrested by Phnom Penh police over their plan to attend the above-mentioned assembly, which was eventually prevented by the police. On the same day, Mr. Kong Sam An, ex-member of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was arrested at his home in Tbong Khmum Province.
On September 7, 2020, Mr. Tha Lavy, a member of Khmer Thavrak, was arrested by Phnom Penh police while stepping out of a tuk-tuk at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park on his way to the gathering. Another Khmer Thavrak member, Ms. Eng Malai, was followed by police from the protest and arrested that same evening after leaving the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) in Phnom Penh.
On September 7, 2020, Messrs. Koet Saray, Mean Prommony and Kong Sam An appeared before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. On September 8, 2020, Mr. Tha Lavy and Ms. Eng Malai were also brought before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. They were all charged with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” under Articles 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code. If found guilty, they could face up to two years in prison and a 4,000,000 Riels (approximately 825 Euros) fine. They were then all placed in pre-trial detention, Messrs. Koet Saray, Tha Lavy, Kong Sam An and Mean Prommony in Phnom Penh’s Correctional Center 1 (CC1) and Ms. Eng Malai in Phnom Penh’s Correctional Center 2 (CC2), where they currently remain detained.
On September 11, 2020, Mr. Muong Sopheak, a member of KSILA, was arrested by the police in Phnom Penh and subsequently charged with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” for planning to participate in the above-mentioned assembly. He was then taken to CC1, where he remains detained.
This wave of arrests follows the detention of three more defenders who were charged with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” and put in pre-trial detention in August for participating in peaceful demonstrations calling for Mr. Rong Chhun’s release, including Ms. Sar Kanika, a CNRP member who was arrested in Phnom Penh on August 7, 2020; and Ms. Chhoeun Daravy and Mr. Hun Vannak, two Khmer Thavrak members who were arrested on August 13, 2020. They all remain in pre-trial detention, Ms. Chhoeun Daravy and Ms. Sar Kanika in CC2 and Mr. Hun Vannak in CC1.
The Observatory further recalls that Mr. Thun Ratha, Ms. Long Kunthea, and Ms. Phoun Keo Reaksmey, three members of “Mother Nature Cambodia”, also remain detained since September 3, 2020 for planning a peaceful demonstration to denounce the exploitation of Phnom Penh’s Bueng Ta-mouk lake.
Moreover, on September 7, 2020, the Ministry of Interior released a statement instructing authorities to take legal action against members of Khmer Thavrak and Mother Nature Cambodia, accusing the two groups of “causing social chaos”, and labelling them as illegal for not being registered under the repressive Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (“LANGO”).
The Observatory reiterates its deepest concern about the fact that Cambodian authorities systematically use legal harassment and the politicised judicial system to target all critical voices, including human rights defenders, as well as about the serious deterioration of the human rights situation in the country, including through increasing obstacles to the exercise of freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly in Cambodia.
The Observatory calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all above-mentioned human rights defenders since their detention is arbitrary as it only aims at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities.
Please write to the authorities of Cambodia to urge them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Messrs. Rong Chhun, Hun Vannak, Tha Lavy, Koet Saray, Kong Sam An, Mean Prommony, Thun Ratha, and Muong Sopheak and Mses. Sar Kanika, Chhoeun Daravy, Eng Malai, Long Kunthea and Phoun Keo Reaksmey, and all other human rights defenders in Cambodia;
ii. Immediately and unconditionally release Messrs. Rong Chhun, Hun Vannak, Tha Lavy, Koet Saray, Kong Sam An, Mean Prommony, Thun Ratha, and Muong Sopheak and Mses. Sar Kanika, Chhoeun Daravy, Eng Malai, Long Kunthea and Phoun Keo Reaksmey, since their detention is arbitrary as it seems to be merely aimed at punishing them for their human rights activities;
iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Messrs. Rong Chhun, Hun Vannak, Tha Lavy, Koet Saray, Kong Sam An, Mean Prommony, Thun Ratha, and Muong Sopheak and Mses. Sar Kanika, Chhoeun Daravy, Eng Malai, Long Kunthea and Phoun Keo Reaksmey, and all other human rights defenders in Cambodia, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;
iv. Guarantee, at all times, the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and the right to freedom of association;
v. Conform in all circumstances with the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted on December 9, 1998 by the United Nations General Assembly, in particular its Articles 1, 6 and 12.2;
vi. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights instruments ratified by Cambodia.
· Mr. Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
· Mr. Sar Kheng, Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Mr. Keut Rith, Minister of Justice of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: email@example.com
· Mr. Prak Sokhon, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
· Mr. Suon Visal, President of the Cambodian Bar Association. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Ambassador Mr. Ney Samol, Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: email@example.com
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Cambodia in your respective countries.
Geneva-Paris, September 25, 2020
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
 Mr. Rong Chhun is the President of the independent Cambodian Confederation of Unions and a member of the Cambodia Watchdog Council, who was arrested on July 31, 2020. For more information see Observatory Urgent Appeal KHM 001 / 0820 / OBS 089, published on August 6, 2020.
 Khmer Thavarak is a youth group, set up in early 2020, which advocates against social injustices and raises concerns about pressing environmental issues.
 KSILA is a group that works on mobilising and building capacity, to increase students’ participation in social development, good government, and sustainable use of natural resources
 For more information, see Observatory report, Down but not out. Repression of human rights defenders in Cambodia, published on July 9, 2020.