Urgent Interventions

Harassment, arrest, and detention of human rights defenders continue

PhnomPenh, Paris, Geneva, January 22 – FIDH and the World Organisation AgainstTorture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection ofHuman Rights Defenders, the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association(ADHOC), the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights(LICADHO), and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) express theirconcern over the Cambodian authorities’ ongoing harassment, arbitrary arrest,and detention of human rights defenders.

The Cambodian governmentmust comply with its obligations under international law and ensure that humanrights defenders can conduct peaceful activities without fear of being harassedand arbitrarily arrested,” FIDH President Karim Lahidji said. “This includeslifting a blanket ban on public demonstrations, which contravenes Article 21 ofthe International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cambodia isa state party,” Mr. Lahidji added.

On the morningof January 21, 2014, security forces arrested and took into custody 11 humanrights defenders for several hours at Phnom Penh Municipal Police Station. The11 had attempted to submit petitions to foreign embassies, including those ofthe US and France, which called for the release of 23 demonstrators whoauthorities detained in a crackdown on striking garment workers on January 2-3.While it is unclear why the 11 were detained, it is widely believed that theywere detained for violating a verbal ban on public gatherings by more than 10people, which the Cambodian Ministry of Interior issued on January 4.

Thosearrested on January 21 are as follows: Boeung Kak Lake community human rights defenders Mmes. Tep Vanny, Yorm Bopha,Song Sreyleap, Pan Chunreth, Erm Sreytouch, Bov Sorphea,and Ngoun Kimlang; Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA)President Mr. Rong Chhun; Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU)member Ms. Cheang Thida; Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF) member Ms. LongKim Heang; and rights activist Ms. Choung Sopheap. All 11 werereleased later in the day after they were forced to sign statements pledgingthat they would not join, lead or incite ‘illegal’ activities or protests inthe future.

Freedom of assembly maybe displeasing for the authorities but it is not an illegal activity. Itremains a right that nobody can be forced to give up while in police custody,”OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock said. “One cannot say it more often:far from being the cure to a problem history is replete with examples thatquelling dissent only exacerbates tensions,” Mr. Staberock added.

OnJanuary 6, Boeung Kak Lake community human rights defenders Tep Vanny, YormBopha, Bo Chhorvy, Song Sreyleap and Pan Chunreth hadpreviously been arrested and taken into custody by authorities in Phnom Penhfor several hours for attempting to submit a similar petition to the Frenchembassy calling for the release of the 23 demonstrators. In addition to theunlawful detentions, on January 19, pro-government security guards and thugswearing black helmets and armed with batons used excessive force to disperse asmall group of activists and NGO leaders. The group had gathered to conduct apeaceful prayer vigil near the Royal Palace in central Phnom Penh for therelease of the 23 detained individuals and to show support for their demand toincrease the minimum wage for workers. Police also detained overnight at the PhnomPenh Municipal Police Station one of theorganizers of the prayer vigil, Independent Democracy of Informal EconomyAssociation (IDEA) Vice-President Sokchhun Oeung. On both January 6 and19, the human rights defenders were released after signing a similar letteragreeing to cease demonstrating.

TheObservatory, ADHOC, LICADHO and CCHR call for the immediate lift of the verbalban on public gatherings by more than 10 people, in which context theabove-mentioned arrests occurred.

The current ban onassemblies is unlawful, seriously disproportionate, and excessively broad andviolates Cambodia’s domestic and international obligations. The ban onassemblies and the subsequent arrests are politically motivated and serve onlythe purpose of protecting the current government from criticism,” CCHR ProgramDirector Sopheap Chak said.

TheObservatory, ADHOC, LICADHO, and CCHR also urge the Cambodian government toimmediately and unconditionally release on bail all 23 demonstrators detainedin Correctional Center 3 (CC3) and in Kampong Cham prison, both located inKampong Cham Province.

Ourorganizations further call on the authorities to stop using force to represshuman rights defenders’ peaceful and legitimate activities. They also condemnthe use of pro-government, unofficial security guards to arrest and detainactivists and human rights defenders.

The security forces’brutality against unarmed peaceful protesters has become the norm in Cambodia,”LICADHO Director Naly Pilorge said. “The international community should takenote of this alarming trend and demand the government put an end to therepression of non-violent dissent,” Ms. Pilorge urged.

TheObservatory, ADHOC, LICADHO, and CCHR reiterate their call for a quick,thorough, and independent investigation into the use of lethal force tosuppress a workers’ strike on January 3.

The government’s delayin investigating the deadly January 3 crackdown has emboldened security forcesto step up abuses against peaceful demonstrators. Holding those responsible forthe January 3 crackdown accountable will send a clear message that heavy-handedactions are no longer tolerated,” ADHOC President Thun Saray said.

OnJanuary 2-3, security forces arrested 23 people, including garment workers andhuman rights defenders, during a brutal crackdown on striking garment workersat two separate locations in Phnom Penh. Among those detained were: Vorn Pov,President of the IDEA; Theng Savuen, Coordinator of the Coalition ofCambodian Farmer Community (CCFC); and Chan Puthisak, a human rightsdefender from the Boeung Kak Lake community. At least four people were killedand more than 20 suffered bullet wounds in the January 3 crackdown.

OnJanuary 16, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of humanrights in Cambodia Surya Subedi condemned the incommunicado detention for several daysof the 23 individuals detained on 2and 3 January, and urged that the authoritiesseek their immediate release on bail.

Sign up now

Subscribe to our latest news & alerts