Rights groups have called for the Cambodian government to drop charges against two youth activists arrested in July for their participation in a memorial service for slain political commentator Kem Ley.
The statements were released by Amnesty International and ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) on Sunday and Monday, respectively. They called for the released of youth activists, Kong Raiya and Soung Neak Poun, who were arrested in July and have been held in pre-trial detention in “incitement” charges.
Kong Raiya was arrested a day before memorial services were held for Kem Ley on July 10 for selling t-shirts with the murdered political commentator’s image. At the memorial, Soung Neak Poun was arrested for holding a sign calling for the government to stop extrajudicial killings.
“Their case illustrates how in today’s Cambodia anyone who dares to express any form of support to critics of Hun Sen, even the least threatening and most remote ones, end up straight in jail,” said Eva Sundari, former Indonesian Member of Parliament (MP) and APHR Board Member.
The APHR statement criticized the Supreme Court’s failure to rule on Kong Raiya’s bail application, pushing back the decision to November 4. Soung Neak Poun’s bail application is due before the court on November 15.
Uk Kimseth, spokesperson for the Supreme Court, declined to comment on the statements released by the two rights groups.
“I don’t have anything to respond to these organizations,” he said.
APHR noted that the arrest was linked to a wider crackdown on dissent by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government, which included the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party and shuttering of independent media organizations.
Amnesty International also decried the overcrowded prison cells housing the two activists, adding that it raised serious concerns for their physical and mental health.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak dismissed the statements because the government could not interfere with court procedures.
“Cambodia got its own law to follow, and do everything according to the legal procedures,” he said. “The state will not be called a state if we just free the prisoners according to their requests.”