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Rights Workers Condemn Courts for Delays in Activists’ Trials

Supporters shout slogans on a blocked main street near the Phnom Penh Municipality Court during their gathering to call for the release of anti-governments protesters who were arrested in a police crackdown, in Phnom Penh, file photo.
Human rights workers on Wednesday condemned the court’s treatment of 23 labor activists, who were detained in January and are now seeing continued delays in their trials.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday conducted a short hearing for three of the activists, all of whom are facing charges related to violence committed during pro-opposition and labor demonstrations in January. It then scheduled more hearings for May 20.

But rights workers say the court is not offering a speedy trial and is instead dragging out the process to put pressure on the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party to take part in political negotiations with the ruling party.

Chan Soveth, deputy head of investigation at the rights group Adhoc, said the court is likely to continue delaying the trials.

“I’ve never seen the court make postponements like this,” he said. He compared the detainees to “prisoners of war,” who are being held to pressure the opposition to the negotiating table.

Court officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday. But Sam Prachea Meanith, a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice, said the court was properly undertaking its duty, and government spokesman Phay Siphan dismissed the allegations of foot-dragging.

The Rescue Party has boycotted the new government since the 2013 elections, saying they were marred by fraud. It is in ongoing negotiations with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party over election reforms.

Rescue Party Vice President Kem Sokha told reporters last week the detention of the activists would be raised in bilateral talks with the ruling party.