Khmer News in En

Cambodian Supreme Court Keeps Kem Sokha Five in Prison

Cambodia’s Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected an attempt to free four human rights workers and an election official who are awaiting trial in connection with the government’s wide-ranging probe into an alleged affair by opposition party leader Kem Sokha.

The court agreed with the government’s argument that the Kem Sokha Five need to remain in jail while they await trial on charges connected with the investigation in order to prevent them from swaying possible witnesses and causing public unrest.

Two of the defendants told RFA’s Khmer Service that the court was under political pressure to keep them in jail.

“If the courts were independent we would be released,” Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) official Ny Sokha told RFA. “Our case is politically motivated. We will all be released when the political situation is calm.”

On May 2, Cambodian authorities arrested Ny Sokha and fellow ADHOC staffers, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, and Lim Mony, as well as National Election Committee (NEC) Deputy Secretary-General Ny Chakrya for allegedly attempting to pay Khom Chandaraty, Kem Sokha’s purported mistress, hush money.

“We have been treated very unfairly,” Yi Soksan told RFA. “It is in a communist country that human rights workers are mistreated.”

‘They should just kill us all’

Thun Bonitas, Yi Soksan’s wife, lashed out at the government.

“There is no justice for us, for we have been very badly mistreated,” she said. “They should just kill us all rather than letting us live in this unjust society.”

Som Sokhong, an attorney for the five, told RFA that releasing them would help calm Cambodia’s political waters.

“I think it will be good if they are released because then there will be no more Black-Monday campaign,” he said. “The campaign is aimed at demanding for their release. If they are released they can return to work.”

The campaign is named for the color of the clothing demonstrators wear during the Monday protests.

While Black Monday began as an attempt to pressure the government over the arrests, it has morphed into a more generalized campaign against government abuses, including land confiscations, and demands for a thorough investigation into the murder of government critic Kem Ley in July.

The seizure of land for development—often without due process or fair compensation for displaced residents—has been a major cause of protest in Cambodia and other authoritarian Asian countries, including China and Myanmar.

International criticism

Am Sam Ath, a technical coordinator for human rights group LICADHO, told RFA that keeping the five in jail does little good and helps fan the flames of international criticism.

“So far Cambodia has been under criticism from the national and international communities,” he said. “Some foreign assistance for development has been withheld.”

Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP )  deputy leader Kem Sokha is accused of procuring a prostitute in relation to his alleged affair with hairdresser Khom Chandaraty. Despite being summoned twice in May, he refused to appear in court to answer questions about the allegations and has remained holed up in the party headquarters.

He was convicted on Sept. 9 failing to appear before the court in the case and sentenced to five months in prison and fined 800,000 riel (U.S. $200).

In October, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court extended their detention as it attempts to find more witnesses and evidence in the government’s case against the opposition leader.

The charges are viewed by many as an attempt by Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to smear the opposition before local elections in 2017 and national elections in 2018.

Hun Sen and the CPP have ruled the country for more than three decades, but Cambodia’s ruling party suffered a dramatic drop in support during the country’s last election in 2013, and could see even more erosion in the upcoming elections.

Reported for Samnang Rann for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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Cambodia Voter Registration Ends with 7.8 Million of 9.6 Million Eligible Voters Signed Up

After extending Cambodia’s voter registration period for a day, the country’s election commission turned down an opposition party request to stretch out the deadline even further.

Although the 90-Day voter registration period was slated to end on Tuesday, the National Election Commission (NEC) added an extra day to the effort, and people flooded several of the commission’s offices, prompting them to remain open until midnight.

While slightly more than 7.8 million of Cambodia’s 9.6 million eligible voters signed up for the local elections scheduled for next year, CNRP officials said the registration short-changed some voters.

Meng Sopheary, head of election monitoring for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), told RFA’s Khmer Service that the number of unregistered voters is still too high and the registration period should be extended for at least four more days.

“Though our party is thankful to the NEC for adding another day to the voter registration period, it’s not enough,” she said. “It was evident that during the final day many people still kept coming to register.”

‘We don’t have more time’

NEC Secretary General Tep Nytha, said it was too late to extend the registration period for a longer time.The NEC claims that adding more time would make it difficult to verify the registration data, procedures and technical issues related to the voter rolls.

“We don’t have more time for voter registration as we have another fish to fry including dealing with several complaints,” he said. “We also need to prepare the lists of candidates for over 20,000 polling stations. It is a race against time now.”

But Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, disputed that notion.

“Even if the NEC adds another week to the voter registration period it wouldn’t do any harm to its work schedules,” he said.

Ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesman Sok Eysan welcomed the NEC’s decision to extend the voter registration drive for a day, but dismissed the opposition for calling for a longer extension, telling Khmer Times that CNRP members were “cultural troublemakers.”

“We are satisfied with the new voter registration process,” he said. “It’s their culture for the opposition’s statement to cause worry to voters and the election process.”

A new system

Cambodians are using a new digital voter registration system that is designed to combat the voter fraud accusations that marred the 2013 elections.

The new system is part of a 2014 election reform deal between the CPP and opposition CNRP that ended almost a year of deadlock following the 2013 ballot.

Included in the nearly 2 million eligible voters who were unable to register this year are migrant workers who have to travel far to their home communes, the elderly who have mobility issues, prisoners and Cambodians who choose not to vote.

Eligible voters who failed to register will be unable to vote in the commune elections in 2017 and the 2018 national elections.

So far, NEC has received 97 complaints about the process, saying that 91% of them has been addressed. Most of the complaints are related to technical errors including the repeated names.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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Interview: 'I don’t trust the map produced by Vietnam…We trust France with this.'

In a rare instance of cooperation, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) agreed to back a plan that could finally settle the border dispute between the country and neighboring Vietnam. The border issue has been a potent political issue for both parties as the CNRP has criticized Prime Minister Hun Sen for allegedly giving territory to Vietnam, and Hun Sen has retaliated by jailing politicians who have attacked him on the issue.

The border dispute has also vexed Vietnam as the two countries have been working to complete demarcation of the border for more than two decades. But this week Hun Sen and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc agreed ask the government of France, former colonial ruler of Cambodia and Vietnam, for assistance in copying colonial border maps mandated by the Cambodian constitution into maps that use modern cartographical techniques.

CNRP President Sam Rainsy discussed the issue with Radio Free Asia’s Khmer Service journalist Chun Chanboth on Tuesday. While Sam Rainsy remains a powerful force in the opposition, he has been barred from entering Cambodia and faces arrest if he does so. Other opposition politicians, notably opposition lawmaker Um Sam An and opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour have been jailed for posting their comments on Facebook about the border dispute.

RFA: It is very rare to hear the leaders of the opposition and ruling parties agree on anything like a request for assistance from France to convert the antiquated Bonne maps with a resolution of 1:100,000 to the modern, GPS compatible Universal Transverse Mercator (UTM) maps with a resolution of 1:50,000 to assist in the border demarcation efforts. You have stated that it would be better to let France help with the maps than to allow Vietnam to produce them. However, some people say it is too late to do that now. Can you elaborate on this?

Sam Rainsy:  I think it’s better late than never. A lot of people agree that it is a wise idea to seek assistance from France with the maps and related documents. I trust that the maps provided by France are more reliable than the maps produced by Vietnam. France is an expert, for it has been involved in this case for over a hundred years. The supplement map we ask her to provide us is not meant to replace the maps as stipulated in Article 2 of our constitution. We should not be afraid to use a supplement map which is more detailed.

RFA: Should there be an amendment to Article 2 of the constitution before the proposed UTM map with map scale of 1:50,000 can be used for the border demarcation purpose?

Sam Rainsy: The constitution does not need to be amended to allow a UTM map with a scale of 1:50,000 to be used. It is only an additional tool to make the map more detailed and accurate. There is no change in the content of the map.

RFA:  This is the first time you have agreed with the government on a point regarding border demarcation. However, some senior members of your party do not agree with your idea. What do you think of that?

Sam Rainsy: Let me clarify: We would like France to help convert the scale, but not the system. We would like the scale of 1:100,000 to be converted to the scale of 1:50,000. The latter version of the map has more detailed information which can make border demarcation work easier and more accurate.

RFA:  But still, some senior members of your party appear to have different views regarding your move. How do you convince them this is the right thing to do?

Sam Rainsy: Cambodia and Vietnam have used a map produced by Vietnam for the border demarcation work. I don’t trust the map produced by Vietnam. This is the opportunity to ask France to help us. We trust France with this.

RFA: Why does that matter?

Sam Rainsy: If France is involved, we have a neutral country that can be our arbitrator on this. It is way better than having Cambodia and Vietnam alone work on this. So far, the border demarcation has been approximately 80% complete. However, the work has been based on the maps produced by Vietnam. Now, with a UTM map to be provided by France, we will see if we have to revisit the case from point A-Z again.

RFA:  But France used to concede Cambodian land to Vietnam. Why do you think you should trust her with this?

Sam Rainsy: Today France is different from France in the colonial period. Circumstances have changed. I trust France as a neutral country. I don’t think France gets any benefits from taking the side of Vietnam or Cambodia. France has indicated that if both countries ask for help, she would help.

Translated by Nareth Muong for RFA’s Khmer Service.

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Threat to Expel U.N. Human Rights Office Riles Cambodia

Kicking the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights out of Cambodia is raising worries among the country’s citizens that they will have no place to turn if the rights watchdog no longer has a place in the country.

“Cambodia will be a more authoritarian country without the U.N. office,” a rickshaw driver named Chhun Oeun told RFA’s Khmer Service. “Even now, with the U.N. office here, several human rights activists have been arrested, beaten, and jailed. I cannot imagine how much worse the situation will be if there is no such office.”

Am Sam Ath, a technical coordinator for human rights group Licadho, told RFA that closing the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) in Cambodia would be a loss for the entire nation as it will lose foreign aid and international respect.

“Cambodia will be deprived of its foreign aid due to its action,” he said. “There might be fewer reports on human right abuses if the U.N. office is no longer present, but that doesn’t do any good to the government’s overall image.”

Song Sreyleap, a Boeung Kak land activist, told RFA the Cambodian government is trying to avoid its responsibilities to its people.

“If the government does not want the U.N.’s intervention into Cambodia’s internal affairs, why has it failed to take good care of its own people?  Why has it not done anything to improve the human rights situation? Why has it not stopped the suppression of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly? Why has it not stopped evicting people from their homes?” she said.

Some 3,500 families were evicted from the land surrounding Boeung Kak lake in Phnom Penh, which was filled with sand to make way for a development project with close ties to Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

Sar Sorn, a representative of Borei Keila community, told RFA the attempt by Hun Sen’s government to kick out the U.N. was a transparent attempt to hide his activities.

“The government is afraid to face the truth about its abuses of human rights, and that’s why it wants to close down the U.N. office,” she said. “If the government is truly accountable for its actions as it claims it is, then it shouldn’t be afraid to let the U.N. office continue its mandate. Its threat to close the office reflects the regime of a dictator.”

About 300 families in Borei Keila were forcibly evicted from their homes in 2012 to make way for development by the politically-connected construction company Phanimex.

Trader Sim Thida told RFA that she fears a return to the dark days of the Khmer Rouge.

“Cambodia will be reduced to a regime like the Khmer Rouge where people were totally controlled and deprived of their rights and freedom,” she said. “Cambodia will lose a check and balance if there is no U.N. office.”

‘Arrogant and disrespectful behavior’

Cambodia’s Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon accused the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), of “arrogant and disrespectful behavior toward the sovereignty of Cambodia,” and threatened to end the country’s cooperation with the office unless it agrees to quit “meddling” in the nation’s internal affairs.

“Despite the [Royal Government of Cambodia’s] efforts to enhance the smooth, constructive, and effective cooperation based on mutual respect, the OHCHR has furthermore been stepping up its interference in internal affairs of Cambodia,” he wrote in a Nov. 22 letter to OHCHR leader Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein.

While the memorandum of understanding that allows the OHCHR to operate in Cambodia lapsed last year, the office has continued to function without it.

According to Prak Sokhon’s letter, that could end at the end of 2016 if the OHCHR refuses to agree to operate “on the basis of the principle of respect for sovereignty and non-interference in Cambodia’s internal affairs.”

Raivna Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said yesterday that discussions with the government on the new agreement were continuing, the Khmer Times reported.

“The presence of OHCHR in any country depends on the agreement of the host country, and we are looking forward to continuing to discuss with the government the continuing presence of OHCHR in the country,” she said, according to local media reports.

Sovereignty and Sam Rainsy

Cambodia’s government has bristled over comments made earlier this month by the OHCHR’s country representative Wan-Hea Lee, who told local media that an Interior Ministry directive barring Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Sam Rainsy from entering the country was a likely rights violation.

“No elements of the decision to block the entry of Mr. Sam Rainsy into Cambodia have been brought to light that would allow anyone to assess its reasonableness, which renders the decision unjustified and arbitrary,” Lee wrote in an email to The Cambodia Daily.

In October, the Cambodian government ordered police, immigration, and aviation authorities to “use all ways and means” to prevent opposition leader Sam Rainsy from returning from exile, as he has pledged to do before elections in 2017 and 2018.

The opposition leader has been abroad for a year to avoid a two-year prison sentence handed down in a defamation case. It is not the only conviction handed down by the courts.

In the latest case, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found the opposition leader guilty of defamation on Nov. 8 for claiming that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s social medial team bought “likes” on Facebook from “click farms” abroad to increase his support.

At the time of his latest conviction, the opposition leader said he could never win in the Cambodian courts because they are “puppets of the government.”

ADHOC and NEC officialskept in jail

Meanwhile, the Cambodian appellate court on Monday refused to release four workers for the human rights organization ADHOC and a National Election Commission member who are facing charges in connection with the government’s wide-ranging probe into deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha’s alleged affair with a young hairdresser.

The Appeals Court upheld the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s decision to keep ADHOC’s Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Nay Vanda, and Lim Mony, and the NEC’s Ny Chakrya in jail for up to six more months as the court collects more evidence in the cases, which are widely seen as politically motivated.

Ny Chakrya and the ADHOC workers face charges of bribery or attempted bribery for allegedly attempting to pay hairdresser Khom Chandaraty money to keep quiet about her alleged relationship with Kem Sokha.

“The appeals court judge indicated that the court has upheld the investigative judge’s decision on the provisional detention as it is a criminal case and the investigation is not yet complete,” Kea Sophal, an attorney for the ADHOC workers told RFA, saying the legal team has yet to decide what to do next.

Reported by Sideth Cheu and Samnang Rann for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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Cambodia’s National Assembly Boosts Military Spending in a Time of Peace

In a move that is troubling opposition party lawmakers, Cambodia’s National Assembly agreed to boost 2017 defense spending in the country by about 23 percent even though the country is at peace.

“We have noted that there is a contradictory point from the government’s claims that our country has peace and good relations with neighboring countries,” Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) chief whip Son Chhay told reporters after Wednesday’s vote to approve the budget.

“We are spending almost the same as Vietnam, which is having a conflict in the South China Sea,” Son Chhay told the Phnom Penh Post.

Vietnam and China are among the countries that are at loggerheads over Beijing’s attempts to control the valuable waterway.

Cambodia’s defense spending would run just over $470 million in 2017, according to an analysis by the newspaper. The Ministry of Interior and Public Order is slated to receive about $320 million, according to the analysis.

The country’s total budget for 2017 comes to about $5 billion, local media reported. All told, the budget plan projects that Cambodia’s spending will increase by about 15.6 percent with increases for most sectors.

Education spending for 2017 is expected to be about $667 million, while health spending for comes in at around $420 million, according to the Phnom Penh Post.

While the CNRP was critical of the budget approved by all 66 members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party who attended the parliamentary session, the opposition abstained from voting, according to local media.

Son Chhay told reporters after the vote that the CNRP could not support the budget because of what it deemed insufficient increases in spending to the Health Ministry and Education Ministry.

“The spending doesn’t respond to the needs of priority sectors such as education and health, but the defense sector keeps increasing,” he said, according to The Cambodia Daily.

Prime Minister Hun Sen left the assembly’s plenary session early to attend a meeting with the Vietnamese and Lao prime ministers.

The color of money

While Hun Sen didn’t stick around, the national budget reflects his priorities, and the increase in military spending is problematic as the prime minister has shown little reticence about using the military inside Cambodia.

Hun Sen’s personal body guard has been linked to abuses of power including the 1997 grenade attack that killed 16 people in what appeared to be an assassination attempt that targeted CNRP leader Sam Rainsy.

Three members of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s military bodyguard, convicted of the brutal beating of a pair of opposition lawmakers near the National Assembly last year, were freed earlier this month after serving just one year in prison.

Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit also deployed military helicopters, navy vessels and troops for “exercises” close to CNRP headquarters in downtown Phnom Penh.

The prime minister, who has ruled Cambodia for more than three decades, has also made it clear that he will use the military to crush any “color revolution” in the country.

“All armed forces are obliged to absolutely ensure that Cambodia is free from any color revolutions,” the Cambodian strong man wrote in a Facebook post.

“Such a revolution will harm people’s happiness and peace in Cambodia,” he wrote. “Armed forces shall protect the legitimate government.”

He made similar remarks during the Police Academy of Cambodia’s graduation ceremony.

Hun Sen has inveighed several times against “color revolutions,” named after a series of popular movements that used nonviolent protests under colored banners to topple governments in countries of the former Soviet Union during the 2000s.

Civil society groups and their supporters began staging “Black Monday” protests soon after the arrests of officials from the human rights group ADHOC that came in connection with the government’s wide-ranging probe into an alleged affair between CNRP leader Kem Sokha and a young hair dresser.

While the protests began as an attempt to pressure the government over the arrests, it has morphed into a more generalized campaign against government abuses, including land confiscations. Demonstrators wear black during the Monday protests as a symbol of solidarity.

Land concession debate

The seizure of land for development—often without due process or fair compensation for displaced residents—has been a major cause of protest in Cambodia and other authoritarian Asian countries, including China and Myanmar.

Land issues were also part of the budget debate on Tuesday as Son Chaay blamed the country’s need to borrow $1 billion on the government’s inability to collect taxed from companies with land concessions.

Cambodia leases out large parcels of land to private companies that use the land concessions for growing crops or other economic activity.

“There is a conspiracy to let the concessionaires violate their contracts and sell the concession land or continue their deforestation,” he said according to the Phnom Penh Post report.

Deforestation is a big issue in Cambodia and other Asian countries. Companies with large land concessions often clear cut valuable timber from what are supposed to be protected forests. The timber is then smuggled into China where it is used to make high-end furniture.

Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap defended the budget, saying it will help the country achieve its objective.

“Spending for the 2017 budget is in response to the priorities and needs of the various ministries and institutions to achieve their policy objectives,” he said, according to the Cambodia Daily.

Reported and translated by RFA’s Khmer Service. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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Kem Sokha Plans to Keep Away From Cambodian Parliament

The acting president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party plans to continue boycotting the National Assembly, but other party members are free to attend the parliamentary body’s plenary session on Tuesday, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann told RFA’s Khmer Service on Monday.

“CNRP lawmakers have just unanimously decided that the acting president of the CNRP Kem Sokha should not avail himself to attend the next parliamentary plenary,” Yim Sovann said on the RFA TV-Live Show.

“However, all CNRP lawmakers who are available are encouraged to attend it,” he added. “Given the fact that there is still no political solution to the current political tension and atmosphere, Kem Sokha will continue to remain in the CNRP Headquarters.”

Kem Sokha has been hiding out in the party’s headquarters in Phnom Pehn since police attempted to arrest him in May for ignoring court orders to appear as a witness in a pair of defamation cases related to his alleged affair with a hairdresser.

After a one-hour trial on Sept. 9, Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Keo Mony sentenced Kem Sokha to five months in prison and an 800,000- riel (U.S. $200) fine for failing to appear in one of the related cases.

On Nov. 8 the same court found CNRP President Sam Rainsy guilty of defamation for claiming that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s social medial team bought “likes” on Facebook from “click farms” abroad to increase his support.

Sam Rainsy has been in exile for the past year to avoid a two-year prison sentence handed down in a separate defamation case. Since he left the country Kem Sokha was named acting president.

The cases against the two opposition politicians are just some of the court actions taken by the Cambodian government against opposition lawmakers that many inside and outside the country see as an attempt by Prime Minister Hun Sen and his Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to maintain power as elections loom in 2017 and 2018.

“Both the president and acting president of the CNRP have been prevented from serving the people due to the trumped-up charges and politically motivated cases brought against them,” Yim Sovann told RFA. “Several CNRP activists including a senator and lawmaker are still locked behind bars.”

In addition to the convictions of Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy, opposition lawmakers Um Sam An, Hong Sok Hour and CNRP media director Meach Sovannara are all serving jail terms. Opposition lawmaker Thak Lany, who fled to Sweden, was convicted of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this month.

“CNRP has been under pressure and suppression,” Yim Sovann told RFA. “Due to these unresolved crisis, Kem Sokha reserves his rights to remain on strike at the Headquarters. The CNRP demands a political solution so that the upcoming elections are free and fair.”

Reported by Thai Tha for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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