Cambodia’s Main Opposition Leader Arrested for Treason

By: Brian Kim
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – On Sunday, September 3rd, Cambodia’s main opposition leader, Kem Sokha, was arrested for treason. He is accused of violating Article 443 which prevents officials from “colluding with foreigners.” If convicted, Mr. Sokha could face a 30 year jail term.

Kem Sokha was arrested outside his house in Phnom Penh. Photo courtesy of New York Times.

The opposition leader was arrested during a heavy crackdown on critics of Prime Minister Sen’s government. The government officals accused Mr. Sokha of discussing plots with the United States government to undermine Cambodia.

The government, as evidence, disclosed a four-year-old video of Mr. Sokha giving a speech and stating that he has received advice from the United States government on establishing an opposition group in Cambodia.

According to Mr. Sokha’s daughter, Ken Monovithya, more than 100 police officers surrounded their home and arrest her father without a warrant. She stated that Mr. Sokha was handcuffed and escorted to an unmarked vehicle by numerous officers. It is reported that he is currently being held at a remote prison near the Vietnamese boarder. He has not been given an opportunity to speak to an attorney.

Upon Mr. Sokha’s arrest, the United States Embassy in Phnom Penh commented that the charges “appear to be politically motivated.”

The Cambodia’s Prime Minister, Hun Sen, and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party will face a tough election next year. After ruling the country for more than three decades, Mr. Sen’s critics have accused him of trying to eliminate his oppositions prior to the upcoming election.

The New York based Human Rights Watch group has recently stated that “the government and the ruling CPP have manufactured these treason charges against Kem Sokha for political purposes, aiming to try and knock the political opposition out of the ring before the 2018 electoral contest ever begins.”

NYT – Cambodia Arrests Opposition Leader, Accusing Him of Treason – 2 September, 2017

Reuters – Cambodia charges opposition leader with treason – 5 September, 2017

Aljazeera – Cambodia politician Kem Sokha charged with treason – 6 September, 2017

UN Calls on Cambodian Government to Release Detainees

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

Phnom Penh, CAMBODIA — In May 2016, the government of Cambodia detained five human rights defenders. The government alleges that these individuals criminally assisted a woman in making false claims while under investigation by the Cambodian Anti-Corruption Unit. On January 25, 2017, two human rights experts called on the Cambodian government to release the detainees, as the charges against them were ruled “arbitrary” by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Photo Courtesy of: UN Photo
The United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. Photo Courtesy of: UN Photo

Cambodia is a signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which explicitly prohibits the “use of criminal provisions as a pretext to suppress and prevent the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression and to silence human rights defenders.” In May 2016, UN human rights experts sent a joint urgent appeal to the Cambodian government on the status of the five detainees. The request has yet to be addressed.

Experts are concerned about a lack of transparency in the Cambodian legislature as well as conflicts between Cambodia’s political parties. In September 2016, a spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern on this topic, noting that there is a high degree of intimidation and opposition between the country’s political groups.

Despite an international call for action, the Cambodian government has yet to respond and continues to detain the five human rights activists.

For more information, please see:

UN News Centre – Cambodia: UN experts call for immediate release of five human rights defenders – 25 January, 2017

JURIST – UN rights experts call for immediate release of 5 human rights defenders in Cambodia – 25 January, 2017

Human Rights Watch – Cambodia: Drop Farcical Investigation of Human Rights Defenders – 7 February, 2017

UN – International Convention on Civil and Political Rights – 19 December, 1966