The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), is asking for urgent intervention in Cambodia on behalf of human rights defender Mr. Chan Soveth.
The Observatory was informed by reliable sources of a citation to appear in court issued against Mr. Soveth, Senior Investigator and Deputy Head of the Monitoring Section of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association(ADHOC). ADHOC issued a statement expressing its deep concern over this move by judicial authorities, stating that it “can be seen as nothing other than an attempt to intimidate human rights defenders and prevent them from carrying out their legitimate activities.”
According to the information received, on August 9th 2012, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued a citation summoning Mr. Soveth to appear before an investigating judge on August 24th 2012. He was charged with “providing assistance to the perpetrator” of a “crime” under Article 544 of the Cambodian Criminal Code, and faces an imprisonment sentence of one to three years and a fine of two million to six million Riels ($500 – $1,500 US).
ADHOC also stressed that “it has always conducted its activities in accordance with the law. Over its twenty years of existence, ADHOC has consistently condemned illegal acts and pursued dialogue with the authorities, while supporting victims of human rights abuses.”
Exact details behind this charge have not yet been disclosed by the government, but they appear to be connected to a long-standing land dispute in Kratie province. On May 16th 2012, the government sent in hundreds of armed security personnel, supported by helicopters, to evict villagers who were living in an area in Kratie province marked for development by a Russian company.
During the eviction, Ms. Heng Chantha, a 14-year-old girl, was shot dead. Government officials later justified the operation by claiming the villagers, some of whom are members of the Independent Democrats Association, were part of a secession movement. ADHOC released a statement on May 17th and condemned the killing of the young girl. Government officials later justified the operation by claiming the villagers, some of whom are members of the Independent Democrats Association, were part of a secession movement. ADHOC released a statement on May 17th which condemned the killing of the young girl.
The Observatory believes that the charges against Mr. Soveth are linked to his sheltering of a land activist involved in this issue. The court citation was signed on August 9th 2012, just eight days after Prime Minister Hun Sen made accusatory references in a nationally televised speech to an unnamed “human rights worker” for his role in providing assistance to villagers in relation to this land dispute.
ADHOC has been repeatedly harassed by the government in recent years according to the Observatory. In July 2012, armed police officers raided a training session on land rights organised jointly by ADHOC and the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) in Rattanakiri province. Moreover, Mr. Soum Chankea, ADHOC’s Provincial Coordinator in Banteay Meanchey province, faced spurious charges of defamation, which the court eventually dropped in June 2012. Furthermore, in January 2011, Mr. Sam Chankea, ADHOC’s coordinator in Kampong Chhnang province, was convicted of defamation, in connection to a critical statement he made about land-grabbing by a Cambodian company during an interview with Radio Free Asia in December 2009.
On July 2012, independent radio station owner Mr. Mam Sonando was arrested and is currently in pre-trial detention in Phnom Penh, facing charges of ‘secession’ in relation to the same land dispute in Kratie. The government has yet to present any credible evidence substantiating its claims that a secessionist movement exists in Kratie.
The Observatory expresses its deepest concern about these acts of judicial harassment of Mr. Chan Soveth, which they allege are aimed at hindering his human rights activities, in a context of continued governmental harassment against human rights defenders, including against other ADHOC members.
The organization is calling on the Cambodian authorities to stop any judicial actions against Mr. Chan Soveth aimed at curbing his legitimate human rights work and to put an end to all acts of harassment against him as well as against all human rights defenders in Cambodia. They also ask that the authorities guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders and their organizations in Cambodia.