Human rights group Amnesty International has laid into Cambodia’s judiciary for allegedly oppressing land and human rights activists, opposition politicians and union leaders.
In its latest report on Cambodia, titled “Court of Injustice: Suppressing Activism through the Criminal Justice System in Cambodia”, it said that since the last general election, in June 2013, “the Cambodian criminal justice system seems to have been systematically targeting [human rights defenders] and political opposition activists: there are at least 27 in jail.”
“Human rights defenders ... and political opposition activists are targeted by the executive and ruling party through the criminal justice system on the basis of their political beliefs, activities, however peaceful, and/or due to their status,” it continued.
Am Sam Ath, head of monitoring at local rights group Licadho, said the report reflected the situation in Cambodia accurately.
“The report was issued by referring to research and it reflected what happened in the past during which time human rights officers and other activists were arrested. Other people saw that it was not reasonable for the arrests to be made,” he said.
Sam Chakea, a spokesman for Adhoc, another local rights group, agreed.
“For the present situation, the courts are weak and dare not to use their discretion to try the cases; for example, cases of Adhoc’ human rights officers can prove this. Thus, we support Amnesty International’s report, which is right and reflects the current situation of Cambodia’s judicial system,” he said.
More than two dozen members of the opposition, rights workers and activists have been detained since the last election and charged with offenses ranging from corruption to “insurrection” in cases widely viewed as politically motivated.
“They have been the victims of violations of a broad spectrum of their fair trial rights, including their rights to be presumed innocent, to equality before the courts, and to legal counsel,” Amnesty said.
It said there was “no evidence” that members of the opposition had planned violent acts for which they were blamed after district security guards were beaten at a demonstration in July 2014. The beatings followed months of attacks on opposition marches by the same security force.
“[T]o the contrary, there is substantial evidence that CNRP parliamentarians in attendance repeatedly told their supporters to conduct themselves peacefully and videos available online indicate that the violence that did take place was in fact initiated by security forces,” the report notes.
It also questioned why six union leaders were charged following the killing of several striking workers by security forces in January 2014.
The government dismissed Amnesty’s findings, saying it was an attempt to influence the forthcoming local elections, which will take place on Sunday.
Chin Malin, justice spokesman, said the report was “based on what civil society groups and the opposition say” and would not “have any influence on the government”.
Sok Eysan, ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman, claimed the report was pro-opposition and had a “Cold War mindset”.