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Cambodian activists freed from prison, handed suspended sentences

Supporters gathered in Phnom Penh show their enthusiasm upon hearing of the release of the 23 activists, 30 May 2014
Supporters gathered in Phnom Penh show their enthusiasm upon hearing of the release of the 23 activists, 30 May 2014

CCHR

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) welcomes the decision on 30 May 2014 by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court of First Instance to suspend the sentences of the 25 human rights defenders, activists and protestors arrested during demonstrations in November 2013 and early January 2014 in the Kingdom of Cambodia. However, CCHR strongly condemns the decision of the judges to convict them despite a complete lack of evidence, and serious violations of their right to a fair trial, as detailed by CCHR ahead of the verdict.

Human rights defenders Vorn Pao, Sambath Piseth, and Chan Puthisak were sentenced to four-and-a-half years imprisonment and Theng Savoeurn to four years for instigation of acts of violence. The six other individuals arrested at Yak Jin Factory on 2 January 2014 were sentenced to between two-and-a-half years' and three years' imprisonment. The 13 arrested on Veng Sreng Boulevard on 3 January 2014 all received sentences ranging from one to four years' imprisonment. The two arrested at Stung Meanchey during a protest by SL Garment Factory workers on 12 November 2013, including a minor, were also convicted. However, all sentences were suspended and all defendants will be released shortly.

The arrests of 23 of the defendants took place in early January in the midst of a government crackdown on protests by garment workers and supporters of the opposition outside of the Yak Jin and Canadia factories in Phnom Penh, during which at least four people were shot dead and dozens were severely injured.

Since their arrests, the 23 have repeatedly been denied their rights to a fair trial. 21 of the group of 23 have been repeatedly denied bail. Meanwhile, no credible and independent investigation into the use of excessive force by state security forces has taken place.

CCHR calls on the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) to put an end to all acts of harassment, in particular judicial harassment, against all human rights defenders and opposition voices in Cambodia.

The guilty verdicts illustrate the lack of independence of Cambodia's judiciary, which has been further threatened by the recent adoption by the National Assembly of three laws relating to the judiciary. CCHR urges the Senate to amend these laws to ensure the independence of Cambodia's judiciary.

CCHR Human Rights Defenders Project Coordinator Chhay Chhunly comments:

"The only thing the 25 can be blamed for is to have exercised their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. While we are happy that they will all be released and reunited with their families, we are dismayed by the court's decision to hand down guilty verdicts. The lack of any incriminatory evidence demonstrates that the verdict is based on political considerations rather than evidence. Their arrest and conviction is symbolic of a trend to repress human rights defenders and protesters by the Royal Government of Cambodia."

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