A leading Cambodian rights worker has been summoned to appear at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, in what colleagues say is an effort to intimidate rights advocates.
Ny Chakrya, head of legal assistance for the rights group Adhoc, is to appear in court on Wednesday, to face charges of alleged public defamation in a suit filed by two government officials. Last month, Ny Chakrya spoke to media about a land dispute in Siem Reap province, leading to the suit.
Under Cambodian law, defamation is a criminal offense, punishable by jail time and fines. But it also allows officials to initiative retributive lawsuits against critics.
Phil Robertson, deputy director for the Asia division at Human Rights Watch, said the suit appears to be an act of intimidation.
“We are concerned that this is political persecution by the Cambodian government against a Cambodian human rights advocate, someone who has a long career of working on human rights and someone who has done nothing wrong,” he said.
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for the rights group Licadho, said Ny Chakrya was working to defend people’s rights, and should not be punished for it. “This is threat and intimidation against the activities of a human rights defender,” he said.
Ny Chakrya said he did not receive the summons directly and will not go to court until he does.
Asked whether he feared arrest for ignoring the summons, he said rights workers can’t be concerned about jail in Cambodia. “If we are human rights defenders and feel concerned about arrest or not arrest,” he said, “we can’t work as human rights defenders in a country that does not respect human rights.”