Rights workers arrested for ‘corruption’ in Cambodia

By Lauren Crothers

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AA) – What began as a scandal involving Cambodia’s deputy opposition leader and at least two alleged mistresses intensified Friday, as it emerged that five people — four of them human rights workers — have been arrested for their roles in assisting one of the women.

The issue is as complex as it is controversial.

Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) deputy leader Kem Sokha is being investigated by the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) over claims he made about buying properties in a series of leaked phone calls to at least two women.

One of those women, Khom Chandaraty, denied for weeks that hers was one of the voices in the tapes.

She relented earlier this month, but then sued Sokha for failing to deliver on his promises and accused officials from rights groups, the United Nations and the opposition of urging her to lie about the relationship.

This week, the ACU summoned eight people and began questioning five of them.

On Friday, The Cambodia Daily quoted ACU chairman Om Yentieng as confirming the arrest of four workers from rights group Adhoc and of Ny Chakrya, a former Adhoc worker who now serves as deputy secretary-general of the National Election Committee.

He said the arrests happened Thursday evening and were related to “corruption”, but did not elaborate.

A CNRP spokesperson told Anadolu Agency on Friday that the arrests had been “politically motivated”, because the ACU is “trying to crack down on civil society and those who are different from them.”

He said Sokha, who has been abroad “on an appointment”, is scheduled to return to Cambodia later Friday.

The news of the arrests coincided Friday with statements released by a consortium of rights groups, and a separate call for the European Union to hold Cambodia accountable for “harassment” of rights workers in an upcoming dialogue scheduled for next week.

In its statement, the consortium said the ACU had erred in questioning the workers.

“The role of the ACU in summonsing civil society members for performing legitimate activities in relation to a politically sensitive case is inappropriate and amounts to intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders,” it said.

“The aggressive pursuit of this investigation demonstrates that the ACU’s priorities lie not in tackling endemic corruption, but in abusing its mandate to suppress civil society and target opposition figures. It is grossly inappropriate for this body to misuse criminal law to target civil society and critics of the government,” the statement added.

Adhoc President Thun Saray could not be reached Friday, but had said in the statement that Adhoc had done “nothing wrong” in assisting Chandraty.