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Group Urges Protection of ‘Rights Defenders’

The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission issued a statement Friday calling for the government to end its threats against rights defenders in the courts and to instead focus on rights protection in the interest of the public.

The public call comes following the ejection of Pen Bunnar, an advocate for the rights group Adhoc, from Ratanakkiri province, under threat from the provincial court, and charges of incitement against two rights workers in Bantheay Meanchey province.

“The Asian Human Rights Commission strongly urges the Cambodian government to honor all its international human rights obligations, and, in particular, to support the rights of all its citizens, human rights defenders and NGOs to undertake activities that promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms in Cambodia,” the group said. “The government and its agents must provide adequate protection to all human rights defenders.”

Pen Bonnar was forced from Ratanakkiri province after the court threatened to charge him with defamation, disinformation and incitement, “apparently under pressure from powerful persons interested in the exploitation of the resources that are supposed to belong to the indigenous people in the area,” the group said.

Om Yienteng, head of the government’s rights commission and a senior adviser to Prime Minsiter Hun Sen, welcomed the message, saying it showed the rights group “believes in the Cambodian government.” However, he said, the group’s concerns were not based on fact.

The rights commission said advocates had “not been secure in their work,” citing 2008 figures from Adhoc of “63 cases of threats of various forms, including arrests, against hundreds of defenders.”