A group of 85 civil society organisations (CSOs)and associations have asked the government to release representatives of land communities and other forest, natural resource and environment activists who have all recently been detained.
In a joint statement on November 15, representatives of the 85 CSOs urged the drop of all charges against them unconditionally.
Ministry of Justice officials, however, said that in a country that observes the rule of law it is not reasonable to expect that charges will be dropped against those perpetrating criminal acts simply because some members of the public request it.
The CSOs include Adhoc; Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC); Licadho; Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR); Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA); Cambodian Institute for Democracy (CID); COMFREL; Youth Resources Development Programme (YRDP); and Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (CENTRAL).
One of the detainees is Chhorn Phalla, a prominent forest activist in Ratanakkiri province who was involved with the protection of indigenous community land in Lumphat district’s Seda commune. He was arrested on September 20.
Another is Phon Sophal, a community representative in Choam Kravien commune of Tbong Khmum province’s Memot district who was arrested in Preah Sihanouk province on December 30 last year and was taken into custody at Tbong Khmum provincial prison.
A third is Chan Thoeun, a forest activist who is accused of attempted murder by a logger identified as Pak Yang Kuo – the son of the Kampong Thom provincial gendarmerie’s deputy commander.
The 85 CSOs also called for the release of Khem Sokhy and So Thal, both of whom are members of the Prey Lang Community Network in Preah Vihear province.
“[We] have observed persecution carried out by the authorities and unjust charges by the judiciary. Most of them have been charged with incitement to commit crimes, inciting serious unrest that harms social security and other politically affiliated crimes designed to silence critics,” said the statement.
They called on the government to guarantee fundamental freedoms – especially the right to freedom of expression and assembly – in accordance with the Constitution and international human rights law.
Furthermore, they asked the judiciary to drop all charges unconditionally that are now pending against other recently released social, environmental and land activists.
Justice ministry spokesman Chin Malin told The Post on November 15 that their demands are incompatible with the functioning of a democratic society that follows the rule of law.
“The only way to counter these lawfully applied charges is to participate in the court proceedings and mount a legal defence of the accused by presenting strong evidence in their favour,” he said.
“In a democratic society, they cannot expect that simply writing a letter demanding that charges be dropped would result in their release without any respect for our legal procedures or the independence of the court.”