Cambodia PM accused over charges against rights workers

By Lauren Crothers

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AA) – An international rights group accused Cambodia’s long-ruling prime minister Tuesday of being involved in the case of six human rights defenders charged with bribing the mistress of an opposition leader.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the charges filed Monday are politically motivated and part of a government initiative “to curtail domestic and international human rights monitoring in Cambodia”.

“No one should mistake these prosecutions for anything other than Prime Minister Hun Sen’s effort to undo decades of work by Cambodian groups and the UN to promote the human rights of all Cambodians,” HRW Asia director Brad Adams said Tuesday.

The prosecutor issued charges of bribery at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court against four staff members from local rights group Adhoc, while a United Nations worker and a member of the National Election Committee were charged with being accomplices.

The charges were filed in relation to their assistance to Khom Chandaraty, a woman who recently admitted to having had an affair with deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha.

On Tuesday, the Phnom Penh Post said the prosecutor had also issued a summons for Sokha to appear for questioning in the case, which centers around leaked phone calls in which the politician talked to a mistress about buying property.

HRW said in a statement that the roles of the six charged did not warrant prosecution.

Adams added that the UN and donors should “publicly reject” the charges because “the human rights defenders aren’t facing an independent, impartial court but a ruling party-controlled judiciary via which the prime minister is determined to send a message that no rights advocate is safe from politically-motivated prosecution”.

An investigative judge will decide whether the charges merit a trial or dismissal.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he had not seen or heard of the statement, because he “doesn’t pay attention to Human Rights Watch”.

“They just manipulate things and are accusing the prime minister,” he told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday.

“These comments attack the prime minister and CPP [ruling Cambodian People’s Party],” he added. “My question is, did they find any flaw that the court served those people? Forget about where they belong, but look at what they have done.”

He accused the six of allegedly having told Chandaraty to destroy evidence of the affair.

“Cambodia welcomes NGOs to be partners with the government… it doesn’t mean that all members who work for them will obey the law. It’s nonsense,” Siphan said.