Official rebuffs ‘corrupt judiciary’ claims

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Rong Chhun speaks at a street-side press conference in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district on Tuesday. Hong Menea

Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin has rejected recent statements by Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU) president Rong Chhun criticising Cambodia’s courts.

Chhun, who was recently released on bail after being charged with the crime of inciting serious social unrest, alleged that the Cambodian judiciary is a market for selling people their freedom, implying that defendants can buy their way out of trouble through corruption and bribery.

The outspoken unionist said he would remain committed to demanding respect for human rights and the rights of the other activists who were released at the same time as him.

Speaking at a street-side press conference on November 23, Chhun said he spent over a year in prison and during that time he claimed to have witnessed prisoners experiencing injustice due to corrupt court proceedings.

“I was in there for over a year and I saw a lot of injustice,” he said. “The courts are like a mirror showing us their own actions and the government leaders’ actions.”

“I say this because I’ve seen the court act as a marketplace for selling freedom. There was a case where a charge of theft with aggravating circumstances was changed to just petty theft after the defendant paid $5,000 or so,” he alleged.

He said many prisoners also suffered injustices due to the lack of a thorough investigation by the court or where the court did not conduct a thorough investigation but issued a warrant anyway because the judicial police referred them to court.

“It’s very unfair, not just for us, but in general. The judiciary must be reformed within the next three to five years because there aren’t enough prisons in the Kingdom to hold all of Cambodian youths.”

Chhun also asked the court to drop the charges against him and other environmental activists. He said he had been released on bail but was placed under a three-year court supervision order, which would limit his freedom.

Chhun was arrested in July of last year for posting claims to Facebook that Cambodia had lost land to Vietnam, citing comments by villagers who live near the border. He was sentenced to two years in prison but was released on November 12 and placed under judicial supervision.

“We want to see Cambodia respect human rights and give full freedom to its citizens,” he said.

Malin countered that apprehended perpetrators are usually angry with the authorities and the courts but Chhun, he said, should only level such accusations if he has clear evidence to support them or he could face legal action.

“These are baseless accusations and he arguably concocted them with malicious intent since he apparently did so without evidence. It is slanderous and it undermines the dignity of our national institutions and he could be held legally liable for that,” Malin said.

Other released activists have echoed Chhun’s claims, saying there were severe problems with Cambodia’s prisons. In response, the General Department of Prisons issued a statement on November 16 claiming that the minimum basic rights of all prisoners were respected and guaranteed.

It said prison is a place where people go to be punished for their crimes and to be rehabilitated into law-abiding citizens and is not meant to be a hotel or vacation resort.

It elaboriated that the management of all detainees was carried out in accordance with the Law on Prisons, the prison’s internal administrative rules and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. The prisons are inspected frequently by the Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC), the National Committee against Torture and the Ministry of Interior.