Urgent Interventions

Cambodia: Arbitrary detention of Mr. Kem Sokha and Mr. Yeng Virak

KHM 001 / 0106 / OBS 001

Arbitrary detentions / Judicial proceedings

January 4, 2006

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Cambodia.

Brief description of the situation:

The Observatory has been informed about the arrest of Mr. Kem Sokha, President of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR), and Mr. Yeng Virak, Director of the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC) and member of the organising committee of the International Human Rights Day celebration on December 10, 2005. On December 31, 2005, both men were arrested on separate occasions by the police, on charges of “defamation”, in relation to the December 10 celebration.

According to the information received, on December 31, 2005, at 10:30 am, a group of uniformed and plainclothes police officers from Daun Penh district and Ministry of Interior arrived at the CCHR office, which was closed as it was a Saturday. Nevertheless, Mr. Kem Sokha had a meeting with his staff in the office, located on street 242. The police officers entered the compound but were blocked by the security guards and staff members who were at the main door of the building. When asked by CCHR staff members about their purpose, the police officers, at first, said they wanted to talk to Mr. Kem Sokha, but later they presented a search warrant when told that the latter was busy. Some of the police officers went to the sides of the building trying to check any door. A second warrant summoned Mr. Kem Sokha based on defamation complaints against him. The warrants had been issued by Mr. Sao Meach, Investigating Judge of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, on different dates. The police were refused to search the office and see Mr. Kem Sokha as his lawyers were still being called. As negotiations between the police officers and CCHR officers dragged on, Embassy officials from U.S., British, German, and other embassies, representatives from local and international developmental organisations and human rights NGOs, the United Nations Cambodia Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNCOHCHR), local and international journalists, and CCHR supporters arrived and slowly increased in numbers. Supporters and onlookers gathered on the street and roadblocks were set sup restricting public access on street 242.

At around 11:00 a.m., Mr. Sao Meach arrived, followed by Mr. Kem Sokha’s lawyers, then the deputy prosecutor. Tension increased when police ordered to lock all the gates of the compound, preventing people from going in and out. The British and US Ambassadors, as well as representatives from local and international NGOs who came later, were no longer allowed to enter the compound. At around 1:30 p.m., Mr. Sokha agreed to go to the court. When he emerged from the building, the summons for questioning was read to him.

At the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, he was accompanied by his wife and his lawyers and was questioned by Mr. Sao Meach for several hours. Police prevented reporters and supporters from entering the court building. Intervention police armed with electric batons were deployed and dispersed the people crowding the street on Monireth Boulevard. According to the lawyers, the investigating judge asked Mr. Kem Sokha about the banners used by CCHR on its booth during the December 10 activities. The judge said that the defamation case was based on alleged handwritten comments on the banner criticising the policy of Prime Minister Mr. Hun Sen, about which the police presented to him photographs. The criminal lawsuits were filed on behalf of Prime Minister Hun Sen. At around 4:15 p.m., Mr. Kem Sokha was brought to the Prey Sor prison.

Moreover, on the same day, at around 3:00 p.m., the police came to the office of the Community Legal Education Centre and demanded entry and meeting with Mr. Yeng Virak. The CLEC staff denied that Mr. Yeng Virak was in the office. Twenty minutes later, a court clerk and deputy prosecutor arrived at CLEC office. Mr. Yeng Virak emerged and was brought by the police to the court. One of Mr. Yeng Virak’s lawyers said that he was questioned by Investigating Judge Sao Meach and was also charged with defamation related to the December 10 activities.

Messrs. Kem Sokha and Yeng Virak are being charged by the court with violation of article 63 of the Provisions Relating to the Judiciary and Criminal Law and Procedure Applicable in Cambodia during the Transitional Period (known as Untac Law), which is punishable by eight days to one year imprisonment and/or a fine of one million (about 210 euros) to ten millions riels.

On January 1, 2006, Mr. Kem Sokha’s wife, relatives, lawyers, and CCHR staff members went to the prison to visit him, but they were not allowed to see him by the guards, who said that it was a holiday. However, they were allowed to send in some materials for personal necessities. They were assured that Mr. Kem Sokha received the materials after receiving a signed written note from Mr. Sokha carried back by the prison guards. The prison chief informed the group that Mr. Sokha was staying with five people in the prison cell, including two foreigners.

Background information:

On December 10, 2005, a group of 63 NGOs, including CCHR, organised the celebration of the 57th international human rights day with programs and booth displays, where participating NGOs displayed their activities and products. Thousands of people participated in the event, which was guarded by police officers and closely monitored by plainclothes police officers. One of the stalls was occupied by CCHR. It was decorated with old banners, which were used in 2003 and had prints in Khmer texts: “My vote is my life” and “I don’t vote for any party that sows fear to the people.” The banners had handwritings on them written by the people who participated in one of the CCHR public activities in 2003. At around 11:00 a.m., CCHR staff members manning the booth were informed by the steering committee that the police authorities complained about the banners used by CCHR in its stall. Upon knowing it, CCHR staff members decided to remove the banners.

After the celebration at around 4:30 p.m., when CCHR carried its things using a truck going back to the office, police and traffic officers stopped the truck and demanded to search it. CCHR staff members refused because the police did not have the court order to do so. After a few hours, subsequent to the intervention from, among others, UN Cambodia Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, CCHR was allowed to go on.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Cambodia urging them to:
i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Kem Sokha and Mr. Yeng Virak;

ii. Release immediately Mr. Kem Sokha and Mr. Yeng Virak and ensure that they be granted a fair and impartial trial so that all charges against them be dropped, as they are arbitrary;

iii. Put an end to all acts of harassment against Mr. Kem Sokha and Mr. Yeng Virak and all human rights defenders in Cambodia;

iv. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, especially its article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, article 6(b), which states that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others (...) to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms”, and its article 8(2), which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to submit to governmental bodies and agencies and organisations concerned with public affairs criticism and proposals for improving their functioning and to draw attention to any aspect of their work that may hinder or impede the promotion, protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms”;

v. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Cambodia.


  • Mr. Hun Sen, Prime Minister, Office of the Prime Minister, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: +855 23 36 06 66 / 855 23 88 06 24 (c/o Council of Ministers), Email:

  • Mr. Sok An, Deputy Prime Minister, Fax: + 855 23 88 06 24, Email:

  • Mr. Sar Kheng, Deputy Prime Minister and Co-Minister of Interior, Ministry of Interior, 275 Norodom Blvd, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: + 855 23 21 27 08

  • Mr. Hor Nam Hong, Minister of Foreign Affairs, 161 Preah Sisowath Quay, cnr rue 204, Phnom Penh
    Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: + 855 23 21 61 44 / + 855 23 21 61 42

  • Mr. Om Yentieng, President of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, Office of the Prime Minister, Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia, Fax: +855 12 81 37 81 / +855 23 21 11 62 or +855 23 88 10 45 (c/o Council of Ministers)

  • Ambassador Mr. Vun Chheang, Permanent Mission of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva, Chemin de Taverney 3, Case postale 213, 1218 Grand-Saconnex, Switzerland, Fax: + 41 22 788 77 74

Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Cambodia in your respective countries.

Geneva-Paris, January 4, 2006

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.
The Observatory was the winner of the 1998 Human Rights Prize of the French Republic.

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