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Cambodia
09.06.21
Urgent Interventions

Cambodia: Denial of bail to human rights defenders Rong Chhun and Sar Kanika

URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY

KHM 001 / 0820 / OBS 089.1
Arbitrary detention /
Judicial harassment /
Risk to the health
Cambodia
June 9, 2021

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH, has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Cambodia.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed about the denial of bail to Rong Chhun and Sar Kanika amid a COVID-19 outbreak in many Cambodian prisons. Mr. Chhun, a prominent labour rights defender, is the President of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU), and a member of the Cambodian Watchdog Council (CWC)[1]. Ms. Kanika is a member of the youth group Khmer Thavrak[2] and an ex-member of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

On June 8, 2021, Rong Chhun and Sar Kanika were denied bail by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, which claimed that the crime for which they have been detained affects social security and is therefore unbailable. Rong Chhun and Sar Kanika were not present at the bail hearing as prison officers requested the court to suspend the transportation of inmates to tribunals due to public health concerns. Since mid-May 2021, many Cambodian prisons have been affected by an outbreak of COVID-19. These prisons include Phnom Penh’s Correction Centre 1 (CC1) and Correction Centre 2 (CC2), where the two human rights defenders remain detained, respectively. Rong Chhun and Sar Kanika have been denied access to their lawyers for over four months, raising concerns over their current health condition.

The Observatory recalls that Rong Chhun was arbitrarily arrested at his home in Phnom Penh on July 31, 2020. On August 1, 2020, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged him with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” (Article 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Court) and ordered his pre-trial detention in CC1. Rong Chhun’s detention came following several public statements he made on behalf of the CWC in which he reported community land loss as a result of the demarcation of the Cambodia-Vietnam border.

Sar Kanika was arbitrarily detained in August 2020, amid a wave of arrests of human rights defenders and activists in relation to their planning of peaceful assemblies that were to take place at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh in September 2020 in order to demand the release of Rong Chhun. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged Sar Kanika with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” and placed her in pre-trial detention in CC2.

The Observatory further recalls that Hun Vannak, Chhoeun Daravy, Tha Lavy, Koet Saray, and Eng Malai (aka So Metta), members of Khmer Thavrak, as well as Muong Sopheak and Mean Prommony, member and Vice-President of the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association (KSILA), respectively, remain detained under the same charges in relation to the same acts. Their bail application was likewise rejected by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on May 18, 2021.

The Observatory strongly condemns the ongoing arbitrary detention of the above-mentioned human rights defenders and reiterates its deepest concern about the Cambodian authorities’ systematic legal harassment to target all critical voices, and about the serious deterioration of the human rights situation in the country, including through increasing obstacles to the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly in Cambodia.

The Observatory is further concerned about the risks for the health of all human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in the overcrowded Cambodian prisons and calls on the authorities to immediately take all necessary measures to ensure their access to adequate healthcare and protective equipment, and reduce the prison population through the adoption of non-custodial measures.

The Observatory urges the Cambodian authorities to guarantee the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Rong Chhun, Sar Kanika, Hun Vannak, Chhoeun Daravy, Tha Lavy, Koet Saray, Eng Malai (aka So Metta), Muong Sopheak, and Mean Prommony. The Observatory also calls for their immediate and unconditional release, along with all other human rights defenders arbitrarily detained in Cambodia, in order to protect their right to health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Cambodia to urge them to:

  1. To guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Rong Chhun, Sar Kanika, Hun Vannak, Chhoeun Daravy, Tha Lavy, Koet Saray, Eng Malai (aka So Metta), Muong Sopheak, Mean Prommony, and all other human rights defenders in Cambodia;
  1. Immediately and unconditionally release Rong Chhun, Sar Kanika, Hun Vannak, Chhoeun Daravy, Tha Lavy, Koet Saray, Eng Malai (aka So Metta), Muong Sopheak, and Mean Prommony since their detention is arbitrary as it seems to be merely aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities;
  1. Put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against Rong Chhun, Sar Kanika, Hun Vannak, Chhoeun Daravy, Tha Lavy, Koet Saray, Eng Malai (aka So Metta), Muong Sopheak, Mean Prommony, and all 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 the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association, as enshrined in international human rights law, and particularly in Articles 19, 21, and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Addresses:

  • Mr. Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: leewood_phu@nida.gov.kh / cppparty@gmail.com
  • Mr. Sar Kheng, Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: moi@cambodia.gov.kh
  • Mr. Prak Sokhon, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: mfaic@mfa.gov.kh / mfaicasean@mfaic.gov.kh
  • Mr. Keo Remy, President of the Cambodian Human Rights Committee. Fax: +855 12 813781 / +855 23 211162 / +855 23 881045 (c/o Council of Ministers)
  • Mr. Ly Chantola, President of the Cambodian Bar Association. Email: info@bakc.org.kh
  • Ambassador Mr. Ney Samol, Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: camemb.gva@mfa.gov.kh

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

***

Geneva-Paris, June 9, 2021

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.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

  • E-mail: Appeals@fidh-omct.org
  • Tel OMCT: + 41 (0) 79 539 41 06
  • Tel FIDH: + 33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18


[1] The CWC is a coalition of several non-governmental organisations and unions, including the Independent Teachers Association, the Independent Government Workers Association, the Student Movement for Democracy, the Independent Farmers Association and the Free Trade Union of Workers of Kingdom of Cambodia, advocating for human rights and monitoring government activities.

[2] Khmer Thavarak is a youth group, set up in early 2020, which advocates against social injustices and raises concerns about pressing environmental issues.

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