The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has sentenced four former human rights workers to five-year suspended sentences for bribing a witness in a case against the former leader of Cambodia’s main opposition party, Kem Sokha.
Another defendant, a former elected official who also previously worked for the same local human rights organization, Adhoc, was also sentenced in connection with the bribery offense.
The five defendants – Nay Vanda, Ny Sokha, Lim Mony, Yi Soksan and Ny Chakrya – were accused of bribing Khom Chandaraty, a witness in a separate case against Sokha, the jailed former leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
On September 18, the court held a nearly 10-hour hearing before the judge arrived at the decision to free the men after handing them suspended sentences.
Judge Duch Sarin claimed the rights workers in a meeting with Chandaraty had told her to lie to the authorities and offered her money as a bribe for her to flee the country.
The case largely rested on a secret recording of Chakrya speaking to a UN official about the supposed plan. Making secret recordings is illegal in Cambodia, but the judge ruled that as an Anti-Corruption Unit official made the recording, it was admissible as evidence.
Mony said the court’s decision was unfair as the rights workers had not told Chandaraty to lie under oath as the prosecution claimed. “What the five of us have said to the court is that it was exaggerated. I haven’t done anything as they have said.”
Sokha also continued to deny the charges.
Am Sam Ath, head of investigations at Licadho, another local rights group, said the ruling may affect the human rights situation in the country.
“It affects the feeling of those who are working to protect human rights and those who are the victim of human rights abuses,” he said.
Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: “These baseless convictions show that Prime Minister Hun Sen intends to persecute human rights defenders even after cementing his power through July’s sham election. It’s clear Hun Sen’s pardon of political prisoners after the election was just a public relations effort to regain international legitimacy.”
The chairman of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), Charles Santiago, said that the guilty sentences handed down to the activists were “outrageous”.
“This also clearly shows that, despite the small concessions offered by Hun Sen in recent weeks, it is very much business as usual when it comes to human rights in Cambodia. The international community must continue to push for fundamental change, including the dropping of all charges against peaceful activists and government opponents.”