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UN Agency Condemns Cambodia's Repression of Human Rights Defenders


FILE - Supporters of Rong Chhun, the arrested leader of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, protest in front of Phnom Penh municipal court, Aug. 1, 2020.

The U.N. human rights office is condemning what it calls growing repressive measures by the Cambodian government that stifles freedom of expression and assembly practiced by the country's human rights defenders.

Since the end of July, the U.N. rights agency has documented the arrest of 25 human rights defenders, including a prominent trade unionist, Rong Chhun. It says 13 people have been released after reportedly signing an agreement under duress to stop their activities.

Among the 12 remaining in prison, the agency says most face charges of incitement to commit a felony.

U.N. human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani says numerous human rights defenders have received threatening phone calls, including death threats, and many are in hiding for fear of being arrested.

"We have also witnessed the unnecessary and excessive use of force by security forces against women demonstrators on at least five separate occasions in recent weeks," Shamdasani said. "We have also documented the intimidation of those participating in peaceful demonstrations — including protesters calling for measures to alleviate the economic impact of COVID on livelihoods, as well as environmental activists, and those demanding the release of detained human rights defenders."

FILE - Rong Chhun, president of Cambodia's Independent Teachers' Association, speaks at a factory workers' protest calling for benefits after their textile factory was shuttered amidst the coronavirus pandemic in Phnom Penh, July 29, 2020.
FILE - Rong Chhun, president of Cambodia's Independent Teachers' Association, speaks at a factory workers' protest calling for benefits after their textile factory was shuttered amidst the coronavirus pandemic in Phnom Penh, July 29, 2020.

Shamdasani says the current situation marks a deepening of the government's intolerance of dissent. The Cambodian government has not responded to the accusations related to the latest cases, the U.N. spokeswoman says.

There recently has been a tightening of laws regarding the detention of human rights defenders, she adds.

"In fact, there was a letter that was sent out by the Ministry of the Interior publicly stating that a lot of these activities carried out by very prominent human rights groups are conducive to activities — and I quote — 'to create provocation and incitement affecting the stability, security, public order and create chaos in society through the use of social media and other media networks,'" Shamdasani said.

The U.N. rights office is calling on the Cambodian government to immediately and unconditionally release those detained, and for security forces to stop using excessive force against those engaged in peaceful protests.

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