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The Cambodian judiciary: Another political tool to repress dissent

This statement was originally published in CCHR's newsletter on 1 December 2014.

In a series of arrests and unfair trials over the past few weeks, the Cambodian judiciary has been used to repress human rights defenders, manipulate political negotiations and influence the outcome of land disputes, rather than protect citizens' rights. Meanwhile, well-connected individuals continue to enjoy impunity. Political interference and judicial harassment are deeply rooted in Cambodia, and were further entrenched earlier this year with the passing of three laws that increased executive control of the judiciary.

On 10 November 2014, police arrested seven members of the Boeung Kak Lake community as they protested outside Phnom Penh City Hall, calling on the government to remedy flooding affecting their homes. The area has suffered serious drainage problems since Shukaku Inc, a company directed by a Cambodian People's Party ("CPP") Senator, filled the lake with sand in 2008 to make way for real estate development, leading to the forced eviction of almost 20,000 people. The seven were detained overnight, and within 36 hours they had been charged with obstructing public traffic and insulting public officials, tried and convicted, each receiving a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a US$500 fine.

Within days, police arrested Cambodian National Rescue Party ("CNRP") members Meach Sovannara and Tep Narin, who are accused of involvement in an "insurrection" over protests in July. The arrests came amidst negotiations between the CNRP and ruling CPP on reform of the National Election Committee ("NEC"), and Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak implicitly admitted political motivations when he said that Meach Sovannara would face a shorter jail term if the CNRP collaborated more on the NEC.

On 18 November 2014, Ly Srea Kheng and his daughter Ly Seav Minh were arrested following a long running land dispute with the Khun Sear Import Export Company. Upon refusing to accept compensation to relocate, the family has faced intimidation, violence and death threats, and on the night of the arrests, the company contacted Mr. Kheng's son to continue negotiations over the disputed land, suggesting that it was abusing its position as plaintiff to pressure the family. The authorities have ignored the family's attempts to register the land, whilst complaints against them have been rapidly expedited.

By contrast, former Bavet city governor Chhuk Bundith, who confessed to shooting three female factory workers protesting at Svay Rieng Special Economic Zone on 20 February 2012 remains free, despite being sentenced to 18 months in prison for the attack.

Until Cambodia's judiciary undergoes appropriate reforms, the people of Cambodia will not be able to fully enjoy their fundamental human rights. Judicial harassment is more than a grave injustice for the individuals involved; it fundamentally undermines the rule of law and democracy. In a country that professes to commitments to uphold these values, judicial double standards are no longer tolerable.

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