OPEN LETTER – THE OBSERVATORY
Re: Concern over the end of year crackdown against human rights defenders
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), expresses its deep concern about court decisions in late December 2012 that led to the wrongful sentencing of two prominent land and housing rights defenders and continued pattern of impunity in the high-profile murder of a trade union leader. The Observatory fears that such decisions were adopted during that time of year to avoid scrutiny by the international community and the media.
On December 26 and 27, 2012, Phnom Penhs Municipal Court sentenced Ms. Tim Sakmony and Ms. Yorm Bopha, two prominent land and housing rights defenders, to prison terms. Ms. Sakmony was found guilty of making a false declaration – a charge totally unsupported by the facts of her case – and received a suspended six-months sentence for time already served. Ms. Bopha was sentenced to three years in prison for intentional violence, on the basis of questionable allegations, and despite the fact that no credible evidence was presented at her trial. After the verdict, Ms. Bopha was returned to Prey Sar Prison’s Correctional Center 2 to serve her sentence.
The Observatory recalls that Ms. Yorm Bopha and Ms. Tim Sakmony were detained since September 4 and 5, respectively. Ms. Yorm Bopha, a pivotal figure in the protests against forced evictions in the Boeung Kak area of Phnom Penh, was detained for allegedly assaulting a person suspected of theft. Ms. Tim Sakmony, a leader in protests against forced evictions from the Borei Keila area of the capital, was arrested after the owner of land developer Phanimex lodged a complaint alleging that she had made a false declaration in a suit accusing Phanimex of inadequate compensation for persons evicted from land the company is developing.
In a separate case, on December 27, 2012, the Court of Appeals upheld the original sentence of 20 years in prison for Messrs. Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, who were convicted for the high-profile killing of trade union leader Chea Vichea in 2004. It is widely acknowledged that their original convictions were based on coerced confessions and plagued by political interference, intimidation of witnesses, and other violations of international standards, which led to the decision by the Supreme Court to release both men from prison in December 2008. The Supreme Court also ordered a new trial by the Court of Appeals.
The Court of Appeals finally retried the pair on November 7, 2012, in a swift hearing that was marred with irregularities and offered absolutely no new evidence of the defendants’ guilt. Despite overwhelming evidence of the innocence of the two men, the Court announced that they were guilty on December 27. The two were immediately arrested and sent to serve the remainder of their sentences at Prey Sar Prisons Correctional Center 1 in Phnom Penh. The Observatory fears that this parody of justice merely aims at protecting the real perpetrators of the murder of Mr. Chea Vichea.
The Observatory is deeply concerned about these new examples of political pressure being used to influence Cambodian’s courts. Likewise, Mr. Mam Sonando, Director and owner of the independent FM station 105 (Beehive Radio) and President of the non-governmental organisation Democrats’ Association, remains detained after the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh refused to release him on bail pending his appeal. An outspoken critic of the Government’s human rights record, including serious and systematic violations of land and housing rights, Mr. Sonando was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment and a fine of 10 million riels on October 1, 2012.
Accordingly, the Observatory calls upon the Cambodian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release Ms. Yorm Bopha and Messrs. Born Samnang, Sok Sam Oeun and Mam Sonando, and to put an end to the judicial harassment against them.
The authorities should also put an end to the judicial harassment of Mr. Chan Soveth, Senior Investigator and Deputy Head of the Monitoring Section for the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) – who was first summoned by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in August 2012 to answer questions in relation to his human rights work. The hearing was delayed, and on December 24, 2012, Mr. Chan Soveth appeared before Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s Investigating Judge. He was not charged, but the case remains pending.
The past year saw an increase in arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, judicial harassment of defenders, and even the killing of key activists with impunity, as recently recalled in a report published on December 10, 2012 by the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO). The Observatory thus reiterates its call to the Cambodian authorities to put an end to any act of harassment against human rights defenders in Cambodia, in compliance with the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights treaties ratified by Cambodia.
We express our sincere hope that you will take these considerations and requests into account.
OMCT Secretary General