Cambodianand international CSOs condemn removal of banners calling for the release ofhuman rights defenders #FreeThe5KH #FreeTepVanny
9 May 2017
We,the undersigned Cambodian and international civil society organizations,condemn the removal by district and commune police authorities of banners callingfor the release of six human rights defenders. Banners were removed from theoffices of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (“ADHOC”),the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (“LICADHO”)and Mother Nature in Koh Kong’s Smach Meanchey commune on 02 May 2017,as well as from three residences in Koh Kong province’s Srae Ambel district on03 May 2017.
Thedisplay of banners by the individuals and organizations concerned is alegitimate exercise of their right to freedom of expression. This right, whichalso protects political speech and speech critical of government, may only berestricted in certain limited circumstances – none of which apply in this case.The forced removal of banners amounts to an unjustified and thus unlawfulrestriction of this internationally and constitutionally protected human right.
"Itis clear that tolerance for dissent and peaceful protest in Cambodia is nowvirtually non-existent,” said Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, Executive Director ofMother Nature. “Absurd claims that the banners 'threaten peace and security'cannot disguise what is nothing more than a heavy-handed attempt by theincreasingly paranoid authorities to intimidate civil society groups."
Theseactions in both cases occurred on private property and seriously undermine therule of law in Cambodia. Article 40 of the Constitution of the Kingdom ofCambodia stipulates that “the protection of the rights to the inviolability ofresidence […] shall be guaranteed. Search of residences, properties […] shallbe done in accordance with the legal stipulations.” The police lacked anysearch warrant and the authorities have acknowledged their lack of any legalbasis.
Thisoutrageous attack on free speech illustrates the increased shrinking ofdemocratic space for civil society in Cambodia, at a time of approachingcommune and national elections, impacting in particular the rights to freedomof expression, peaceful assembly and freedom of association, which areguaranteed by the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia, and domestic andinternational law.
“Withthe commune elections less than a month away, the authorities have once againshown that they will not accept any activities or opinions that do not suittheir political interests,” said Naly Pilorge, LICADHO’s Deputy Directorof Advocacy. “The six human rights defenders have already lost their liberty.Now even those calling for their release face repression.”
Theseincidents occurred only a few days after the one-year mark of the detention offive of the human rights defenders - Lim Mony, Yi Soksan, Ny Sokha, Nay Vandaand National Election Committee Deputy Secretary General Ny Chakrya - on 28April 2017; detention that has been found to be ‘arbitrary’ by the UN Working Groupon Arbitrary Detention.On 27 April 2017, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court decided to extend the five’spre-trial detention for up to another six months. The extension of theirdetention was criticized once again by local, regional and international civilsociety organizations as well as the Delegation of the European Union toCambodiaand the United States Department of State,and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights inGeneva.The day prior to the Investigating Judge’s decision to extend their detentionfor a further six-month period, it was announced that the five were alsocollectively selected as one of three finalists for the Martin Ennals Award forHuman Rights Defenders.
55Cambodian and international civil society organizationshave peacefully joined together to campaign for the release of the five humanrights defenders and land rights activist and human rights defender Tep Vanny,including through banners that count the number of days the six human rightsdefenders have spent in detention. The campaign has been widely supported bythe international community and the public, with individuals in Cambodia andinternationally sending photos and supportive messages to show solidarity withthe detainees.
We,the undersigned Cambodian and international civil society organizations, callon the Ministry of Interior and other relevant local, provincial and nationalauthorities to justify the removal of the six banners and, if there are novalid legal grounds for their removal, to immediately return them to theindividuals and organizations concerned. We also call on the Royal Governmentof Cambodia to immediately cease all intimidation, threats and use of thecriminal justice system against those who are peacefully exercising theirrights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. Mosturgently, we reiterate our call for the Cambodian authorities to release thefive human rights defenders and Tep Vanny immediately and unconditionally, withdrawall charges and halt any other criminal proceedings against them.
Thisjoint statement is endorsed by:
Alliancefor Conflict Transformation (ACT)
AsianForum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
CambodiaIndigenous Youth Association (CIYA)
CambodianCenter for Human Rights (CCHR)
CambodianHuman Right and Development Association (ADHOC)
CambodianIndependent Teachers' Association (CITA)
CambodianLeague for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
CambodianVolunteers for Society (CVS)
CambodianYouth Network (CYN)
Coalitionof Cambodian farmer Community (CCFC)
CommitteeFor Free And Fair Elections In Cambodia (COMFREL)
CommunityLegal Education Center (CLEC)
HousingRights Task Force (HRTF)
IndependentDemocracy Of Informal Economy Association (IDEA)
IndigenousYouth at Prome Community, Preah Vihear Province
FIDH,in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human RightsDefenders
LandCommunity, I Village Preah Sihanouk province
LandCommunity, Prek Chik Village, Koh Kong
LandConflict Community, Skun Village, Siem Reap province
LorPeang Community, Kampong Chhnang Province
RailwayStation, Tuol Sangkae A Community
SOSInternational Airport Community
SoutheastAsian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
WorldOrganisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders