Four human rights workers, an election official and a UN worker were charged at a Phnom Penh court on Tuesday with bribery and conspiracy to bribe a witness.
The six accused – Adhoc investigators Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, Lim Mony; National Election Committee deputy secretary general; and UN officer Soen Sally – were charged with “bribery” and being “accomplices to the bribery of a witness” over their alleged involvement with Srey Mom, the witness in an Anti-Corruption Unit case against opposition leader Kem Sokha.
Ly Sophana, deputy prosecutor at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, told VOA that the Chakrya and the Adhoc workers were detained by the court on the aforementioned charges, but he declined to comment on evidence supporting the charges.
Sally, meanwhile, did not appear in court.
“These five people were detained by the investigating judge. The four officers working for the Adhoc organization were charged with bribery according to Article 548 of the criminal code. For Ny Chakrya, he was put in temporary detention charged with being an accomplice to bribery of a witness, according to Article 29 and Article 548 of criminal code,” he said.
Each defendant could face between five and 10 years behind bars if found guilty.
Am Sam Ath, chief of the investigations unit of rights group Licadho, expressed disappointment that the charges were filed.
“We feel very regretful that the ones who used to help the poor people and the citizens, received punishments and were put in prison,” he said.
They were detained just one day after Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday announced from Sihanoukville that he could not order the judiciary to take action, but warned “all of you who are NGOs or people working for the United Nations, don’t rely on your immunity [from prosecution]. You will be in prison when the time comes.”
“You bribed the witness, you pressured others. It’s none of your business…the law is the law,” he said.
The detentions came after, Khom Chandaraty, also known as Srey Mom, released an open letter on April 22 accusing the rights workers of attempting to bribe her to keep quiet about an alleged love affair with Sokha. She has demanded $300,000 in damages.
Kem Ley, a political aspirant and analyst, said that it would take a drastic action, such as the arrest of Sokha, to fully catalyze opposition to the legal actions.
“The individual [Sokha] would suffer but the popularity of the party would increase,” he said.
San Vatanak, the son of jailed Adhoc official Soksan, said his father was concerned for his father’s health.
“My concern is with his health because he’s old. So he could get sick,” he said. “I am afraid his health will get worse.”
Civil society groups on Tuesday issued a joint statement condemning “in the strongest terms the politically-motivated charging of six human rights defenders from a Cambodian human rights group, the country’s NEC and the United Nation’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights”.