Khmer News in En

Cambodia Court Bars Supporters From Visiting Detainees Ahead of New Year

Supporters of four civil society workers and an electoral official held in pre-trial detention on bribery charges were blocked from visiting them at a prison in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh Wednesday, drawing criticism from a rights group which called the decision an “act of intimidation.”

Members of the rights group ADHOC and other civil society groups were refused permission to meet ADHOC officials Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Nay Vanda, and Lim Mony, and National Election Committee (NEC) deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after gathering at Prey Sar Prison, ADHOC spokesperson Sam Chankea told RFA’s Khmer Service.

Supporters had been refused permission from the court on several occasions since the five were placed in pre-trial detention nearly one year ago, he said, adding that they had hoped to see them Wednesday ahead of the April 14-16 Khmer New Year.

According to Sam Chankea, the court routinely gives supporters “excuses” for not granting them visits, including that its officials are preoccupied with other commitments, but he called the rejections “unreasonable” and said they indicate that the court “harbors ill will” against the five detainees.

“What the court is doing shows its persecution and prejudice against human rights activists,” he said.

“It’s nothing but an act of intimidation. The excuses that court officials are too busy to address our requests for a visit are absurd. It is possible that the court is under the influence of someone with ill intentions to persecute human right workers.”

A wide-ranging probe into a purported affair by opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha led authorities to charge the ADHOC officials with bribery and the NEC official with accessory to bribery for attempting to keep the CNRP chief’s alleged mistress quiet.

On March 24, investigating judge Theam Chanpisith ordered the heads of all correctional centers and prisons in Phnom Penh to refuse anyone other than family members and counsel permission to visit the detainees. No explanation was given for the order.

When asked why supporters were barred from visiting the detainees, General Department of Prisons spokesperson San Keo told RFA there was no good reason to do so.

“I don’t see any significant concerns that would warrant a ban of such a visit,” he said.

“The proceedings in their cases appear to have been concluded by now, for there have been no further summonses for witnesses to testify before the court during the past months. I don’t think there is any plausible reason to deny a request for a visit.”

However, San Keo said his department was bound by the court’s ruling, regardless of the reasoning behind it.

Families discouraged

Also on Wednesday, family members of the detainees told RFA they were saddened that the government had refused to show leniency and release the five ahead of the traditional family reunions associated with Khmer New Year.

An earlier request to free them was rebuffed by the Ministry of Justice, which issued a statement through a spokesperson that “the law is the law.”

Speaking to RFA, Lim Mony’s daughter Un Bunnary said the New Year would be joyless without her mother, whose detention she called “arbitrary.”

“I wonder how the court and government officials would feel if their innocent loved ones were locked behind bars, even during the New Year celebration, when family members are supposed to reunite and enjoy each other’s company in their own warm homes,” she said.

“I won’t have time to celebrate this New Year because I must be at prison to visit my mother.”

Un Bunnary said that prison authorities allow her very little time to meet with her mother when she visits, and questioned how something so bad could happen to a woman who had done so much good for her community.

“My mother is a very good and caring person who does great service for this society—I don’t know how this could happen to her,” she said.

“I have no one to help us. I have been doing my best to call on the court to expedite her case and give justice to her, but all to no avail.”

“In the next couple of weeks it will be a year that she has been detained. I’m just very frustrated now.”

On Tuesday, residents of several communities in Cambodia’s southeastern Tboung Khmum province held protests calling for a royal pardon of the five, as well as jailed land rights campaigner Tep Vanny, so they could be reunited with their families during the Khmer New Year.

One resident told RFA that if the courts continue to detain innocent people, the impartiality of the judicial system will be questioned and support for the government will be eroded ahead of commune elections set for June 4.

Ny Chakrya’s attorney Som Sokong said that his client’s detention had left him in a poor state of mental and physical health, and also affected his family and work with the NEC in the lead up to the local polls.

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

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Cambodia Slams West, NGOs For ‘Disinformation’ Undermining Ruling Party

Cambodia’s government on Tuesday slammed what it said is an ongoing campaign of “disinformation” led by Western governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) against Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party as part of a bid to unseat it.

In an 11-page report entitled “To Tell The Truth,” the government detailed what it suggested were concerted efforts to undermine the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) by foreign powers and the media, which it said heavily favor the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

“For years, Cambodia was the subject of disinformation led by some foreign governments and organizations, which twisted historical facts and events in an attempt to portray a negative image of Cambodia and to lay the blame on the government,” the report said.

“The Royal Government of Cambodia [is] issuing this paper … with the aim of clarifying and setting the records straight on various controversial issues.”

Among the most controversial issues at the heart of the smear campaign, the government said, were criticism over recent amendments to Cambodia’s political party law and an NGO law passed in 2015—both seen as restricting the activities of the groups they concern.

Amendments to the political party law were approved by the National Assembly, or parliament, on Feb. 20, despite an opposition boycott. They include articles that put parties at risk of dissolution for “jeopardizing the security of the state” and “provoking incitement” that critics say are intentionally vaguely worded.

Cambodia’s Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO) was passed with unanimous approval by ruling-party lawmakers, also amid a boycott by the opposition. The law requires the 5,000 domestic and international NGOs that work in the developing country to register with the government and report their activities and finances or risk fines, criminal prosecution and shut downs.

Other issues cited in the report included allegations that Cambodia’s judiciary lacks independence and that the government is seeking to limit freedom of expression by using the courts to level defamation charges at reporters and critics of the ruling party.

The government also expressed concerns that NGOs and foreign journalists are biased against the CPP and that Western countries hold Cambodia to unreasonable standards of human rights protections despite its “extremely short history of modern state-building.”

Allegations rejected

Observers, however, roundly rejected the report as “groundless” and an attempt by the ruling party to whitewash political machinations and poor governance ahead of local elections scheduled for June and general elections in 2018.

Political commentator Meas Ny told RFA’s Khmer Service he was “unsurprised” by allegations in the report.

“This is simply a routine of denial by the government and … nothing but an attempt to keep its skeletons in the closet—it’s just a façade,” he said.

“The government has the right to give the public its own version of an event. However, in this age of advanced technology, it’s hard for the government to conceal the facts about what is actually happening on the ground.”

CNRP senior lawmaker Son Chhay agreed that the report was “nothing new” and dismissed it for what he called a lack of supporting evidence.

“It is groundless to allege that Western countries are favoring the opposition party, while NGOs are helping Cambodians in general, not the opposite,” he said.

“Not only does the paper fail to reflect the truth, but its exaggerated concerns are unsubstantiated.”

Call for release

Meanwhile, residents of several communities in Cambodia’s southeastern Tboung Khmum province held protests Tuesday, calling for the release of a land rights campaigner, four jailed rights group officials and the deputy of the National Election Committee (NEC), the country’s electoral body.

The protesters from Memot and Dambae districts urged the government to free land activist Tep Vanny, ADHOC officials Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Nay Vanda and Lim Mony, and NEC deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya ahead of the April 14-16 Khmer New Year so they can be reunited with their families.

A community representative from Chambak village in Dambae’s Trapeang Pring commune named Yaim Veng told RFA that the protesters hoped to secure a royal pardon for the six detainees, who he said were innocent and unjustly imprisoned.

“May we humbly ask the royal government led by Samdech [honorific] Hun Sen and King [Norodom] Sihamoni to release the activists,” he said.

In February, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court handed Tep Vanny a 30-month sentence for aggravated intentional violence, based on a plaintiff’s testimony that she ordered marchers to attack security forces during a 2013 protest near Hun Sen’s home. Other witnesses said the security forces initiated the attack.

A wide-ranging probe into a purported affair by CNRP president Kem Sokha led authorities to charge the ADHOC officials with bribery and the NEC official with accessory to bribery for attempting to keep the opposition leader’s alleged mistress quiet. All five have been held in pre-trial detention for nearly 350 days.

Another resident of Trapeang Pring named Pheng Samoeun said that “every villager knows who the bad guys and good guys are,” adding that if the courts continue to detain innocent people, the impartiality of the judicial system will be questioned and support for the government will be eroded ahead of commune elections set for June 4.

“We do not agree with what the government is doing to them—even ordinary citizens are fully aware of this injustice,” he said.

“The government should stop burying its head in the sand.”

Ny Chakrya’s attorney Som Sokong told RFA his client’s detention had left him in a poor state of mental and physical health, and also affected his family and work with the NEC ahead of the commune elections.

“There are abundant procedures that allow for his release,” he said, adding that the court should consider freeing him by next week.

Jailed CNRP lawmakers

Also on Tuesday, a group of opposition lawmakers traveled to Prey Sar prison in the capital Phnom Penh to visit jailed CNRP parliamentarians Hong Sok Hour and Um Sam An.

After the visit, senior opposition lawmaker Ho Vann told reporters that the two men remain “strong and determined,” and called on the CNRP to remain united so that it can secure a victory in the June commune elections.

Ho Vann said the government has not indicated it is willing to resume discussions about releasing the lawmakers.

In November last year, Hong Sok Hour was found guilty of forging and publishing public documents and of incitement to cause instability, when he posted a disputed copy of a 1979 Cambodia-Vietnam treaty on Facebook that said the two countries had agreed to dissolve their mutual border.

Um Sam An was handed a two-and-a half year sentence in October 2016 for “inciting discrimination” and “inciting social instability” for posts on the lawmaker’s Facebook page accusing the CPP of failing to stop land encroachment by Vietnam and using improper maps to demarcate the border between the two former colonies of France.

Months earlier, Hun Sen had ordered police to arrest anyone accusing the government of using “fake” maps to cede national territory to Vietnam, which invaded and occupied Cambodia in 1979 to overthrow the rule of the Khmer Rouge.

Reported by Sovannarith Keo, Sokheng Saut and Samnang Rann for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Cambodia’s Ruling Party to Take Legal Action Against Woman For Throwing Shoe

Cambodia’s ruling party will take legal action against a woman who threw a shoe at a party banner that was posted alongside photos of Prime Minister Hun Sen and a high-ranking parliamentary official, a Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesman said Monday.

Video clips posted on Facebook show 38-year-old Sam Sokha from Kampong Speu province throwing her shoe at a banner flanked by pictures of Hun Sen and Heng Samrin, president of the National Assembly.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the party will not address Sam Sokha’s “morality” but will take legal action against her because of her intent to curse its leaders.

“She threw the shoe twice at the banner, so that indicates that she intended to do it, and we will not let her get away with this,” he said.

“We will not correct her mistake, but the court needs to take legal action against her so that no one else dares to do like she did,” he said. “As you know, the two leaders are members of the nation’s elites.”

The CCP office in Kampong Speu province to file the complaint against Sam Sokha, Sok Eysan said.

Keo Sothea, court prosecutor for Kampong Speu province, issued a summons on April 8 for Sam Sokha to appear before provincial police commissioner Sam Samuon by June 8.

Sam Samuon told local media that the police are looking for Sam Sokha, and he has issued a public appeal that people stop her or immediately report to authorities if they see her.

RFA’s Khmer Service was unable to reach either man for comment.

Sok Sam Oeun, chief attorney of the AMRIN Law and Consultants Group, told RFA that it is unreasonable to take legal action against Sam Sokha for throwing her shoe at the CPP banner.

“I really don’t understand what kind of measure this is to take against her,” he said, adding that she had not committed a serious crime.

Sok Sam Oeun suggested that authorities should merely advise her on proper conduct.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has said that Sam Sokha is not one of its activists.

Reported by Tha Thai for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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Cambodia Border Officer Known For ‘Faking’ Accident Shoots Colleague

A border officer in Cambodia who made headlines last year for pretending to be hit by a car driven by an opposition activist is now being sought by police for shooting a colleague over the weekend, a spokesperson for the country’s Ministry of Interior said Monday.

Chhean Pisith, a deputy chief of the border checkpoint with Thailand in Poipet, in western Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey province, shot the checkpoint’s administration bureau chief Sem Makara in the shoulder after a dispute, Ministry of Interior spokesperson Khieu Sopheak told reporters.

“The suspect left the scene with gun,” he said, adding that Sem Makara had not been seriously wounded.

“We know that he is outside the country now and we will cooperate with our neighbors in order to bring him back.”

Khieu Sopheak said that Interior Minister Sar Kheng had fired Chhean Pisith and that the Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court issued a warrant Monday to question him about the shooting incident, which occurred on the morning of April 9.

According to a statement by Sem Makara, Chhean Pisith became involved in a verbal dispute between two fellow border officers on April 7, which carried on throughout the weekend and nearly led to a physical altercation.

When Sem Makara convened a morning meeting to resolve the dispute on April 9, Chhean Pisith drew his service weapon and cocked it, threatening him.

Sem Makara left the room and sought assistance from the chief of border police, and when he returned, Chhean Pisith shot him, grazing his left shoulder, but leaving him otherwise unharmed.

Other officers disarmed Chhean Pisith, who then fled and is believed to have crossed the border into Thailand.

A report by the Cambodia Daily cited Sem Makara as saying that he never had any issues with Chhean Pisith prior to the shooting incident.

The report also cited Sim Sam Ath, chief of the Poipet border checkpoint, confirming the incident but refusing to give details, saying he had already sent a report to the immigration department.

‘Fake accident’

In December, Chhean Pisith created a public stir when a video began to circulate on social media showing him falling to the ground in front of a barely moving car driven by Din Puthy, president of the Cambodia Informal Economy Reinforced Association (CIERA), a labor association that advocates for local moto-taxi drivers, cart pullers and other informal workers.

Chhean Pisith was taken away to Thailand for treatment in an ambulance wearing a neck brace and Din Puthy, who is also the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) deputy head of operations in Poipet, was charged with aggravated intentional violence.

Witnesses told reporters at the time that Din Puthy’s vehicle never touched Chhean Pisith, calling his account of the incident into question, and protesters took to the streets in late December, demanding the labor activist’s release over what they said was a “fake accident.”

CCTV footage from a Thai hotel was later found to show Chhean Pisith walking around the facility and climbing stairs with ease, and Din Puthy was released on bond in January.

Reported by Maly Leng for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Cambodia’s Hun Sen to Request Chinese Aid For Thai Border Road

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday said he plans to ask China for an aid package to build a road along his country’s border with Thailand, despite concerns over the lack of transparency associated with previous donations provided by Beijing.

Speaking at the opening of a newly built road in the capital Phnom Penh, which was also paid for with Chinese money, Hun Sen said the proposed project would link a network of existing highways from the southern province of Sihanoukville, through Koh Kong and Pursat provinces, to the border in Battambang province’s Samlout district.

“We have already connected those roads,” he said at the groundbreaking ceremony he presided over Thursday along with Chinese Ambassador Xiong Bo for a 40-kilometer (25-mile) section of National Road No. 6, linking the capital to the central province of Kampong Cham.

“We are sending a proposal to build a new road which will connect them with our neighboring countries.”

Hun Sen praised China as Cambodia’s top donor and said he planned to ask for more cash during a planned visit to the country in May, when he will attend a summit for the proposed “One Belt, One Road” initiative that could see China invest billions of U.S. dollars in infrastructure projects across Asia, Africa and Europe.

While the prime minister did not provide details on the cost of the proposed border road project, he said Cambodia requires U.S. $500-700 million to develop infrastructure across the country, including roads and bridges, irrigation systems, the electricity grid, and education and health care systems.

Hun Sen’s announcement came days after he dismissed criticism over his government’s use of funds to construct a new soccer stadium in Phnom Penh, saying the money was donated by China and that the project was key to improving the lives of Cambodians.

The prime minister waived off claims that the estimated 1 billion yuan (U.S. $157 million) required to build the Morodok Techo National Sport Complex would be better spent on infrastructure, such as roads and bridges.

China is Cambodia’s largest foreign donor, but many aid agreements between the two nations lack transparency, raising questions about whether Beijing is trying to buy influence in the country and how the money is being spent.

According to data compiled by Cambodia’s government, Beijing has provided Phnom Penh with nearly U.S. $3 billion in loans for 47 development projects and U.S. $180 million in grants for another 10 since 2002.

However, little information has been made publicly available about the largest of the 10 grants—the 1 billion-yuan agreement for the Morodok Techo stadium ahead of Cambodia’s turn as host of the Southeast Asia Games (SEA Games) in 2023.

In the meantime, China continues to funnel money into Cambodia. During Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Cambodia in October 2016, Beijing forgave a U.S. $90 million debt Phnom Penh incurred a year earlier and loaned Hun Sen’s government another U.S. $60 million.

Eastern border

In response to Hun Sen’s announcement, Muong Sony, the president of the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association, told RFA’s Khmer Service that the government should also develop a road along Cambodia’s border with Vietnam in order to protect the country from “encroachment.”

Cambodians along the border with Vietnam are also severely lacking adequate infrastructure for health care, irrigation and agriculture, he added.

The border issue has been a potent political issue for both the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), as the CNRP has criticized Hun Sen for allegedly giving territory to Vietnam, and Hun Sen has retaliated by jailing politicians who have attacked him on the issue.

Vietnam and Cambodia have had a fraught relationship for centuries, but the animosity with Hun Sen dates from the 1979-89 Vietnamese occupation that ended the murderous rule of the Khmer Rouge.

The two countries have been working to complete demarcation of the border for more than two decades.

Reported by Savi Korn for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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US Aid Agency Awards Grant to Cambodia’s Electoral Body Ahead of Polls

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced Thursday that it will provide Cambodia’s National Election Committee (NEC) with a grant of U.S. $1.8 million to support the electoral body’s work during upcoming commune and general elections in 2017 and 2018.

The two-year grant will be used to launch voter education campaigns, strengthen the election dispute resolution process and improve the NEC’s ability to shore up weaknesses in the country’s electoral system, the agency said in a statement.

U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia William Heidt called electoral participation “the foundation of a healthy democracy.”

“We look forward to working with the National Election Committee, civil society, and political parties to continue to strengthen democracy in Cambodia,” he said.

USAID previously assisted the NEC with internal training for its election staff and producing public service announcements for voter registration.

Responding to the announcement, NEC spokesperson Hang Puthea thanked USAID for the grant, which he said added to U.S. $7.1 million his agency had received from the European Union for the upcoming polls, as well as U.S. $1.2 million from Japan and U.S. $12 million from China.

The NEC expects that around U.S. $52 million will be needed to fund the election process, he added.

Voter lists accurate

The USAID announcement came as election monitors the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) and the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC) said they had found NEC-issued voter lists in 252 communes to be 98 percent accurate.

According to a report by the Phnom Penh Post, the two groups had surveyed around 2,700 voters and were unable to verify only two percent of them, helping to quell past concerns over the quality and veracity of the lists.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has long complained about missing voter names and the inclusion of “ghost voters,” with a similar survey by Comfrel in 2011 finding that 17 percent of respondents could not find their names on polling lists.

According to the Post, the two election monitors found voter registration in the 252 communes surveyed this year to be at 89 percent—higher than the NEC’s national registration count of 81 percent.

Twelve political parties are competing for 1,646 commune council seats in the June 4 ballot that many see as a bellwether for general elections in 2018.

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won more than 70 percent of the vote and secured 1,592 of 1,633 communes in Cambodia’s 2012 local elections, held before the CNRP was formed. The opposition party won nearly half of the vote in the general election the following year.

Observers say the CNRP could give the CPP, which has ruled Cambodia for more than 35 years, a run for its money in June, and the opposition has warned that the ruling party seeks to prevent it from standing in the elections through a variety of different measures.

Reported by Chanratha Sorn for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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