Legal experts and human rights activists reacted with caution to the legal measures taken by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court this week after four human rights activists and National Election Committee official were detained on Tuesday.
Sok Sam Oeun, the defense lawyer, said that it was difficult for him to come to a conclusion in relation to the court's decision to detain the five officials because he did not understand on what grounds they were being held.
Khom Chandaraty, also known as Srey Mom, allegedly engaged in an extra-marital affair with opposition deputy president Kem Sokha, which is the subject of an ongoing government investigation.
The rights workers were alleged to have paid about $200 to Chandaraty when they met with her following the announcement of the allegations.
“If you accept $200 and tell a lie, that’s bribery… but if she [Chandaraty] doesn’t have money or a job and needed help and [the rights workers] just helped her financially, that’s not bribery. But I don’t know on what grounds the court is holding them, so we can’t decide whether the charges are fair or not,” Sam Oeun said.
Moeun Tola, executive director of the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, said it was not right for the court to use a small payment of $200 as grounds for a bribery charge as the organization in question, local rights group Adhoc, provides legal and social services to clients.
The four Adhoc workers - Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, and Lim Mony – were charged with bribery and “being accomplices to bribery” on Monday along with election official Ny Chakrya.
Am Sam Ath, chief of the investigation unit of human rights group Licadho, said civil society was skeptical of the veracity of the charges.
“We are still doubtful but what I believe is that the individuals of Adhoc worked in line with ethics … we have seen for 20 years that it [Adhoc] works to help the victims of human rights violations, land rights violations and other injustices,” he said.
But Ly Sophana, a court spokesman, declined to comment on the evidence that would warrant a trial.
Transparency International on Monday said in a statement it was “seriously concerned” by “increasing allegations of political interference and intimidation of human rights and anti-corruption activists” in Cambodia.
“The Anti-Corruption Unit should not be used in such a way that intimidates and silences the voice of civil society activists,” Elena Panfilova, vice chair of Transparency International, said in the statement.
Om Yentieng, director of the Anti-Corruption Unit, could not be reached for comment.