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UN Rights Rapporteur Concerned About ‘Unabated’ Pressure on Ex-Opposition Members

U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, delivers a speech to mark May Day at Tonle Sap river bank in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Some hundreds of workers staged a rally, demanding a better working condition. (AP

The rapporteur calls for the release of former opposition leader Kem Sokha and an end to the court cases against another 80 ex-opposition members.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia expressed concern over violations of the right to democratic participation, as legal cases against ex-opposition party members continue to increase while its ex-leader remains under house arrest.

New summons brought by the Battambang Provincial Court and police in recent days against 25 former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) members pushed the total number of ex-members caught up in legal cases to 80, Rhona Smith said in her end-of-mission statement on Tuesday.

“I see few tangible improvements in the enjoyment of political rights. I remain concerned that pressure on former members of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party appears to continue unabated,” said Smith, who met with several senior government officials, including Minister of Interior War Kheng, during her visit.

“I reiterate my call for the release of [ex-CNRP leader] Kem Sokha from detention and the swift conclusion of the investigation or for the charges to be dropped,” she said, adding that she had been denied a meeting with him.

Sok Eysan, spokesman of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), told VOA Khmer in a response that he was not surprised by her remarks, but that she should have advised the ex-CNRP “not to commit illegal acts” so that its members would not face court cases and convictions.

In late 2017, ahead of the 2018 general elections, the CPP-dominated National Assembly voted to ban the CNRP on accusations that Kem Sokha and his party were plotting to take power with the help of the United States - a claim the CRNP denies.

The U.S. and the E.U. have threatened to withdraw Cambodia’s preferential access to their markets due to the democratic backsliding and human rights violations.

More summons in Battambang

The most recent round of summons came on Tuesday when six former CNRP member were summoned by Battambang Provincial Court on allegations they had gathered in violation of Supreme Court's decision to ban the CNRP.

Yin Mengly, coordinator for rights group Adhoc in Battambang, said they were being targeted as they had performed an online “clean finger campaign” calling for a public boycott of last year’s elections.

“The court or the authority should put an end to this and not let the political situation in our country deteriorate further because it is their rights to freedom of expression and not a movement or an opposition to the court's verdict,” he said.

Am Sam Ath, a monitoring manager at rights group LICADHO, said he believed the total numbers of people ensnared in trials or facing intimidation or surveillance now stands at over 100 cases in Battambang, Kampong Speu, Kampong Thom and Banteay Meanchey provinces.

Last Friday, Pol Tiththeany, 49, a former CNRP financier in Kampong Chhnang province was detained by police on charges of “providing illegal healthcare service.”