A ministry of Justice official dismissed claims by civil society organisations (CSOs) that the government had persecuted human rights defenders and CSOs by using judicial mechanisms and intimidating them through “arbitrary arrests and punishment”.
Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said enforcement of the law does not amount to persecution, explaining that a small group of CSOs and activists had faced legal action because they had committed acts which were illegal.
The remarks followed a joint statement released by more than 100 CSOs, associations and trade unions.
The statement called on the judiciary and other state institutions to stop persecuting them.
Citing the November 23 sentencing of several human rights activists, they said that after closely monitoring the trial of the individuals and former rights group ADHOC staff by the courts at three levels, they were deeply concerned over what they considered “unjust” rulings.
They claimed that the activities of these ADHOC staff and former employees were in line with national and international laws, especially the principles of human rights and policies on the protection and promotion of human rights.
The CSOs called on the judiciary and relevant institutions to improve and strengthen the implementation of the legal system in Cambodia to be fair and in accordance with the principles of the rule of law as enshrined in the country’s Constitution and UN human rights conventions.
They also called on the National Assembly, which represents the Cambodian people, to review the laws and make amendments to protect activities and humanitarian support for victims of human rights abuses that were offered in good faith. Some rights groups, they claimed, were subject to penalties that could affect the rescue of many innocent people, and this threatened the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution.
“The government, please stop the persecution of human rights defenders and CSOs through the use of judicial mechanisms, intimidation through the arrest and arbitrary prosecution of human rights defenders. The government must create mechanisms that ensure the effectiveness of human rights defenders,” said the statement.
Malin reiterated that authorities had only enforced the laws.
“Some groups or individual activists have committed activities which were against the law, so they faced legal action. A small group has used the pretext of being CSOs or social workers exercising their rights to break the law. They cannot hide from the law,” said Malin.
He added that when any illegal activity was discovered, prosecution would ensue. Those who face the courts must defend themselves by presenting solid evidence or arguments. It is not legitimate to demand their release, or to ask that their charges be dropped, when they did commit wrongdoing.
“It is not difficult to understand. If they do not want to face the law, they must act in accordance with national laws and the Constitution alike, rather than violating the law and using the facade of civil society, social work or human rights work as a disguise. That is not acceptable,” Malin concluded.