Khmer News in En

Cambodia Arrests Facebook User For False Vietnamese Kidnapper Claims

Authorities in Cambodia’s Takeo province have arrested a man who falsely claimed on Facebook that Vietnamese men kidnapped Cambodian children and removed their organs, prompting Prime Minister Hun Sen to warn against using social media to spread rumors on Tuesday.

On Monday, police arrested Ly Chhaya after his claims that Vietnamese men had cut out the kidneys and eyeballs of a young girl in Khvav commune’s Svay Torng village, in Takeo’s Samraong district, went viral on social media, and charged him with “falsifying documents and inciting unrest.”

An investigation by authorities into Ly Chhaya’s allegations determined that his claims were false and on Tuesday, he was sent to the Takeo Provincial Court to face prosecution.

Takeo provincial deputy police commissioner Chhun Sareth told RFA’s Khmer Service that an investigation is underway to determine who may have instructed Ly Chhaya to spread the rumors.

“If there were people masterminding this act, [Ly Chhaya] did not admit to it, so we must investigate further,” he said.

Similar claims have spread online in recent weeks, according to deputy police commissioner Kiet Chantharith, who told RFA’s Khmer Service that other social media posts said Vietnamese men had been kidnapping children and harvesting their organs in 10 different provinces and cities, many of them including racist undertones.

On July 29, police arrested teacher and opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) activist Nay Sineng after he wrote online that three Vietnamese men had removed the kidneys and eyeballs of children in Prey Veng province, and that a mob had captured two of them.

“Please be careful with your children since they are very wild,” he wrote, according to a report by the Phnom Penh Post, adding the “disclaimer” that “we are not racist, but we hate this activity that these guys have committed against innocent children.”

The Post cited Kampong Thom police chief Ouk Kosal as saying that the captured men—who he said were from Prey Veng province’s Kampong Trabek district—were not Vietnamese or kidnappers. He said monks had reported them as suspicious to police, who had begun to question them when they tried to flee and were beaten by an angry mob.

Nay Sineng was charged Sunday by Kampong Thom Provincial Court investigating Judge Heng Sokchea with “the communication or disclosure of any false information with a view to inducing a belief that a destruction, defacement or damage dangerous to other persons will be carried out” and sent to pre-trial detention.

Vietnam and Cambodia have had a fraught relationship for centuries, and much of the recent animosity in Cambodia stems from the 1979-89 Vietnamese occupation that ended the murderous rule of the Khmer Rouge and installed Hun Sen as prime minister.

Social media warning

During a commencement speech on Koh Pich Island in the capital Phnom Penh on Tuesday, Hun Sen urged Facebook users to refrain from posting “fake news,” calling such acts a form of “social pollution.” Earlier, authorities had warned that legal measures would be taken against anyone posting or sharing false reports online.

Hun Sen also warned the CNRP against spreading false claims about his death on social media and urged the party’s leaders to “better manage” their activists and supporters.

“[They have said that] Hun Sen is already dead as the result of a plane crash while he is traveling to Vietnam,” he said.

“Such cases always come from the opposition party’s members. So if the opposition party’s leaders fail to cope with it, they will be putting themselves in danger.”

RFA was unable to reach CNRP spokesperson Yim Sovann Tuesday for comment in response to Hun Sen’s warning.

But the Phnom Penh Post quoted him as saying he hoped authorities would conduct an “independent investigation” into the case of Nay Sineng and distanced the opposition party from any racial rhetoric.

Authorities have arrested several people recently in connection with social media posts that insult or threaten the life of Hun Sen.

On June 25, a Facebook user calling himself “Kamvithy Lob Lob Te Sabay” (Stupid But Happy) posted a photo of a flaming airplane with a comment saying that Hun Sen had died in an air accident while traveling to Vietnam.

Late last month, a court in the capital charged two people in one week with making a “death threat” under Article 233 of Cambodia’s Criminal Code for allegedly threatening the life of Hun Sen on his Facebook page.

According to government-aligned media group Fresh News, Rom Chamroeurn had posted a photo of himself posing with a pistol alongside text that said, “Hun Sen, somehow I will kill you” and claiming that Cambodia would not have peace until the strongman was dead.

A week earlier, police in Sihanoukville detained a young man named Pich Ratha, also for allegedly threatening to kill Hun Sen in a comment posted to the prime minister’s Facebook page.

Targeting others

Observers have warned against the erosion of freedom of speech online and suggested that the government refrain from broad threats of legal action.

Local political commentator Lao Mong Hay told RFA that clearer guidelines are needed to deal with the proliferation of false reports online.

“A general law should be created to punish only those [involved in posting the fake news] or its dissemination,” he said.

“Such claims should not be used to target other [innocent persons]. A general order or regulation should be issued.”

Yang Kim Eng, director of the Center for Civic Development and Peace, called for authorities to educate would-be fake news proliferators instead of dragging offenders to court.

“The government or the General Commissioner of the National Police or the Minister of the Interior should warn [those who posted fake news on Facebook] so that these people can apologize in public,” he said.

Other civil society groups have also accused the authorities of practicing a double standard by arresting those who have allegedly threatened members of Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), when several people who have made death threats against members of the CNRP remain at large.

Reported by Vanndeth Van and Moniroth Morm for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Cambodia Signs Controversial Amendment Into Law

Cambodia’s acting head of state signed into effect a controversial new amendment to the country’s Law on Political Parties Friday, as international and domestic nongovernmental organizations slammed the legislation they said will undermine the democratic process ahead of general elections set for next year.

The amendment—proposed by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and adopted on July 10 by its members of parliament amid a boycott by opposition lawmakers—bans parties from associating with or using the voice, image, or written documents of anyone convicted of a criminal offense.

Political parties found in violation of the amendment could be banned from political activities for up to five years and prohibited from competing in elections, or even dissolved.

It was approved by Cambodia’s Constitutional Council earlier this week and signed into effect on Friday in a state of “urgency” by Senate President Say Chhum, the acting head of state in the absence of King Norodom Sihamoni, who is in China for a health checkup.

The changes to the law effectively cut off ties between the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and its former president Sam Rainsy, who has been living in self-imposed exile in France since November 2015 to avoid jail time for convictions widely seen as politically motivated and delivered by courts beholden to Hun Sen’s government.

The ex-CNRP chief’s image appears on CNRP billboards throughout Cambodia and he regularly speaks at opposition events via Skype.

King Sihamoni was also out of the country in March, when an earlier CPP-proposed amendment to the Law on Political Parties was approved amid a boycott of parliament by opposition lawmakers, banning convicted criminals from holding a leadership position in a party and forcing Sam Rainsy to resign as president of the CNRP. The opposition leadership was taken up by his deputy Kem Sokha.

The former CNRP chief earlier this month condemned the adoption of the “Anti-Sam Rainsy Law” by a “rubber-stamp parliament” and called the move to eliminate him from Cambodia’s political arena “useless, futile and counterproductive.”

Following the enactment of the new amendment on Friday, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan dismissed CNRP claims that the law was intended to handicap the opposition ahead of a general election scheduled for July next year.

“They can say whatever they want, but it isn’t true that the government is doing this to pressure any political party,” he said.

CSO concerns

Ahead of the amendment’s signing into effect, a group of Cambodian civil society organizations (CSOs) issued a statement Friday expressing “serious concerns” about the law amid what they called a “typically rushed legislative process.”

The CSOs—which included the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, ADHOC, and the Committee for Free and Fair Election in Cambodia (COMFREL)—condemned the amendment for being rushed into law “without any meaningful consultation,” denying the public the right to participate.

“We are deeply concerned that the exceptionally broad and overreaching powers granted to the Royal Government of Cambodia under the proposed amendment would subvert Cambodian democracy, and violate multiple provisions of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia, as well as Cambodia’s binding international human rights obligations,” the statement said.

The CSOs said that attempts to raise their concerns with both the Senate and the Constitutional Council over the past week were rejected on procedural grounds, which they termed “an affront to the principle of inclusive, transparent and participatory democracy” that further highlighted deficiencies in the legislative process.

They called the legislation a “fundamental threat” to Cambodia’s liberal multi-party democracy as envisioned in the country’s constitution and said that, alongside the earlier amendment to the Law on Political Parties, it would significantly expand the government’s power to dissolve any political party “on the basis of exceptionally vague and subjective criteria.”

“In essence, the proposed amendment would provide the ruling party with the power and pretext to suspend democracy itself,” the statement said, adding that the CSOs were “gravely concerned” about the future of the country’s political situation.

“If these amendments are adopted and its provisions implemented, they would represent an existential threat to multi-party democracy in Cambodia; would have a severe chilling effect on the ability of all political parties to campaign freely and on an equal footing; and as a result would seriously call into question whether the July 2018 national elections could be considered free, fair and legitimate.”

‘Simply resign’

Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service on Friday, Brad Adams, executive director of HRW’s Asian division called on “every member of the Constitutional Council who voted to approve this law [to] resign immediately,” saying they had failed to uphold the constitution, which guarantees Cambodians the right to freedom of expression and association.

“The constitution itself says that Cambodia is a liberal democracy,” he said.

“A liberal democracy does not ban the leader of the opposition from participating in an election. So the constitutional council members who voted for this should have the courage and self-respect to simply resign, instead of participating in this kind of charade.”

Adams said he knew of no law in any country that bans individuals from participating in an election, being spoken about, and having their images put on poster.

“So Cambodia is setting a new world precedent,” he said.

“Hun Sen should be very proud to be the least democratic leader in the world by banning every reference to Sam Rainsy. And it just shows that he’s scared.”

He suggested that if the CNRP was in power and had Hun Sen banned, the CPP “would be screaming that it was anti-democratic.”

Adams anticipated that the international community will “react very strongly” to the new legislation, including with sanctions that would “hurt Cambodia’s economy significantly” through loss of investment and decreases in foreign aid.

He said that the CNRP essentially has two choices ahead of next year’s ballot—both of which carry political risk.

“They defy Hun Sen and he will use this new law to make their party illegal and dissolve it, and therefore they won’t be able to participate in the next election, or they follow the law believing that Hun Sen is so unpopular that even while following the law they will win the next election,” he said.

“One thing I would predict though is that, if they do go along with the law, there is still a risk Hun Sen will find some other reason to get rid of the party or to get rid of the leader of the party, who is now Kem Sokha,” he added.

“So it would not surprise me if, before next July, Kem Sokha is charged with some kind of crime, or a law is passed to ban him, or the CPP finds some kind of excuse to ban the CNRP in spite of the fact that the CNRP is complying with this illegal law.”

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

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Jailed Cambodian Political Analyst Demands PM Confront Him at Defamation Trial

Jailed political analyst Kim Sok on Wednesday demanded that Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen be made to testify at his defamation trial and refused to answer a judge’s questions during a hearing at a court in the capital Phnom Penh.

Kim Sok has been in jail since Feb. 17 after Hun Sen accused him of implying that his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) orchestrated the July 2016 murder of popular political pundit Kem Ley during an interview with RFA’s Khmer Service, but Kim Sok has said he was simply repeating what many Cambodians believe.

At his first hearing at Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday, Kim Sok called for Hun Sen to appear at his trial to explain why he filed the U.S. $500,000 criminal complaint against him for “inciting social chaos,” but Judge Ky Rithy denied his request.

The decision prompted Kim Sok and his lawyer, Choung Chou Ngy, to attempt to walk out of the court proceedings, but the judge ordered the defendant to remain for the entirety of the hearing.

After his lawyer left the courtroom, Kim Sok stuffed paper into his ears and refused to answer any questions from the judge, who adjourned the hearing and said a verdict in the trial would be announced on Aug. 10. Kim Sok faces up to two years in prison if convicted.

While waiting to be led away, Kim Sok called the proceedings part of a “show trial … arranged for Hun Sen’s benefit.”

“The court is influenced by Hun Sen and acts in accordance with his evil instructions,” he said, as guards prepared to escort him back to Prey Sar Prison.

Rights groups accuse Cambodia’s judiciary of lacking independence and say the government seeks to limit freedom of expression by using the courts to level defamation charges at reporters and critics of the ruling party.

Choung Chou Ngy later told reporters his client was “under pressure” because the court refused to let him be heard, and that this was the reason they had sought to boycott the hearing.

Hun Sen’s lawyer, Ky Tech, denied that Kim Sok had been pressured by the court and said his behavior at the hearing was inappropriate.

“Kim Sok was very rude, even in the courtroom, so it’s no surprise that the court had ruled out his request for provisional release,” he said, referring to a decision by Cambodia’s Appeals Court to deny the defendant bail in March.

The prime minister is not obligated to testify in court because he has a lawyer representing him, Ky Tech added.

Call for statue

Kem Ley was shot dead in broad daylight on July 10 when he stopped in a Star Mart convenience store beside a Caltex gas station in Phnom Penh.

Although authorities charged a former soldier, identified as Oueth Ang, with the murder, many in Cambodia don’t believe the government’s story that Kem Ley was killed by the man over a debt.

Just days before he was gunned down, Kem Ley had discussed on a RFA Khmer Service call-in show a report by London-based Global Witness detailing the extent of the wealth of the family of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 31 years.

On Dec. 23 the Phnom Penh court quietly closed its investigation into the murder case without revealing its findings and in a final hearing on March 1, Oueth Ang confessed to killing Kem Ley.

As Kim Sok’s hearing was underway Wednesday, the Khmer Student Intelligent Association published an open letter to Cambodia’s Council of Ministers requesting permission to erect a statue of Kem Ley at the site of his killing, but the council immediately rejected the request, saying it has no jurisdiction over the privately-owned property.

The request from the Khmer Student Intelligent Association, who count themselves among Kem Ley’s followers, was also submitted to and rejected by the Cabinet of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of the Interior, and the Phnom Penh Municipal Government.

It came days after Hun Sen donated U.S. $60,000 to the late political commentator’s brother to cover expenses associated with the one-year anniversary of his death and the construction of a stupa in his honor.

Former prisoner Kong Raya, who in February was freed after serving a one year and six-month prison term for urging a popular uprising against the CPP in a Facebook posting, told RFA that Hun Sen should back the proposal for a Kem Ley statue to show that his donation for the funeral was genuine.

Joint statement

Also on Wednesday, 27 domestic and international nongovernmental organizations issued a joint statement urging Cambodia’s Appeals Court to overturn the “unjust conviction” of land activist and rights campaigner Tep Vanny ahead of its review of her case on Thursday.

On Feb. 23, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Tep Vanny to two years and six months in prison on charges of “aggravated intentional violence” in connection with a 2013 protest she held in front of Hun Sen’s home that ended in violence.

While the protest occurred in 2013, the court prosecutor reactivated the case and charged Tep Vanny in August last year after she was arrested for participating in another demonstration.

Wednesday’s statement—signed by London-based Amnesty International, New York-based Human Rights Watch, and Paris-based Federation of International Human Rights (FIDH)—called her sentence “draconian” and a “clear attempt to silence one of Cambodia’s most fearless and outspoken defenders of human rights” ahead of national elections set for July next year.

The signatories, which also included domestic groups Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and ADHOC, said Tep Vanny’s February trial did not comply with international standards for fair trial rights, as no credible evidence was presented to justify the charges against her and no cross-examination of prosecution witnesses was possible, because they had only provided written statements.

Defense witnesses maintain that security forces launched an attack against Tep Vanny’s group in 2013, leaving some protesters wounded, knocked unconscious, or with lost teeth, while others suffered broken arms. Tep Vanny was also injured in the confrontation.

“The re-opening of these charges appears to be a politically motivated attempt to restrict and punish Tep Vanny’s work as a land activist and human rights defender, as part of Cambodian authorities’ ongoing crackdown on dissenting voices,” the statement said.

“We call on the Court of Appeal to exercise its independence and rectify the injustice of Tep Vanny’s flawed trial by overturning her conviction and sentence.”

Tep Vanny came to prominence as an activist fighting the Boeung Kak Lake land grab, when some 3,500 families were evicted from a neighborhood surrounding the urban lake in Phnom Penh. The lake was later filled with sand to make way for a development project with close ties to Hun Sen and the CPP.

Reported by Moniroth Morm and Vuthy Ha for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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Cambodia’s Health Ministry Cautions Public About Latest ‘Bird Flu’ Strain

Cambodia’s health ministry on Monday expressed concern about the latest strain of avian influenza, urging the public to take precautions and maintain good hygiene when handling poultry.

The current strain of bird flu known as Asian H7N9, is a subgroup of the previous H5N1 strain and was first detected in China in 2013. It can infect both humans and live birds.

“H7N9 is a subtype that we may not be able to contain,” said Doctor Ly Sovann, director of the health ministry’s Communicable Disease Control Department, at a press conference in the capital Phnom Penh.

“We have been able to contain H5N1 so far, but H7N9 is difficult [to contain],” he said.

When the H1N1 virus affects poultry, the birds die immediately, so the disease can be prevented from spreading, Ly Sovann said, adding that the H5N1 strain is still being found in birds in Asia, Europe, and Africa.

But when H7N9 infects poultry, the virus does not kill the infected birds, and it can be passed on to humans, he said.

The number of infections caused by the newer H7N9 virus are on the rise and are difficult to treat, he said.

Since 2013, there have been more than 1,500 human infections by the H7N9 virus in China, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) report issued on June 8.

The virus has forced farmers to cull millions of chickens and other poultry in China, Japan, and South Korea to try to contain the disease over the last few years.

A few cases of the H7N9 virus that occurred in China then spread to Laos and northern Vietnam, but Cambodia has been free of the bird flu since 2014, according to the WHO.

Though no recent cases of H7N9 infections in humans have been detected in Cambodia, authorities continue to take preventive measures against the virus by operating thermal scanners at Phnom Penh International Airport, seaports, and border crossings to detect travelers with high body temperatures who may be infected, Ly Sovann said.

Teng Srey, deputy director of the Communicable Disease Control Department, said Cambodians should not eat sick chickens or those found dead because they could contract the H7N9 virus if the birds are infected, the Khmer Times reported.

“It is likely to happen because the virus is still circulating in poultry,” she was quoted as saying. “”H7N9 has infected poultry in Laos as well as in Vietnam. Although it has not been transmitted to humans yet, we must remain vigilant in Cambodia because we import meat from Vietnam.”

The early symptoms of both strains of avian influenza, which occur after exposure to infected poultry, include a high fever and cough that in some cases can progress to very serious illness, including severe pneumonia, acute respiratory distress, septic shock, and multi-organ failure leading to death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There is currently no publicly available vaccine to protect against H7N9 virus infection.

Reported by Maly Leng for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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Vietnam Land, Labor Activist Handed Nine-Year Prison Term

A human rights defender jailed in Vietnam for her online activism was sentenced on Tuesday to nine years in prison and five years’ probation on a charge of conducting propaganda against the state, sources said.

Tran Thi Nga, 40, was sentenced by a court in northern Vietnam’s Ha Nam province after being convicted under Article 88 of Vietnam’s penal code, a provision frequently used to silence dissident bloggers and other activists.

Though videos and articles posted online by Nga were described by government prosecutors as anti-state propaganda, “Nga rejected the evidence [presented against her],” Ha Huy Son, one of her defense attorneys,  told RFA’s Vietnamese Service on July 25.

“Her lawyers assert that the evidence gathered against her was not collected according to Vietnamese legal procedures, and so we asked the court to release her,” Son said. “But ultimately the court did not accept our arguments, and gave her that sentence.”

Son said that he expects Nga to appeal her sentence “very soon,” adding that no one from the activist’s family was allowed inside the court on Tuesday.

“Only the police and people summoned by the court were there,” he said.

Activists and other supporters had come to Ha Nam to attend the trial, but were blocked from entering the building, activist La Viet Dung told RFA.

“The police gave the excuse that the courtroom was full, so we asked them to use speakers so we could hear from outside, but they refused,” Dung said.

“At first, they let us stand right in front of the court, but then they said we were disturbing public order and chased us away.”

Police then blocked the dissidents again by driving buses in front of them, “trying to discourage us by running their engines and discharging exhaust, but we just kept sitting there,” Dung said.

“When we returned to that spot in the afternoon, it was barricaded,” he said.

Nga, who has two children, is well known for defending the rights of Vietnamese migrant workers and victims of government land grabs, and in May 2014 suffered serious injury when she was assaulted by a group of men wielding metal pipes.

The seizure of land for development, often without due process or fair compensation for displaced residents, is a major cause of protests in Vietnam and other authoritarian Asian countries, including China and Cambodia.

Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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Cambodian Villagers Refuse to Leave Homes as Dam Testing Floods Sesan District

Villagers affected by the U.S. $781 million Lower Sesan 2 hydropower dam project on Mekong River tributaries in northeastern Cambodia’s Stung Treng province said on Monday that they will remain in their villages as the water level keeps rising during a test of the 400-megawatt project.

Officials previously warned locals that the area would be flooded when testing began on July 15, but scores of residents of Sesan district’s Sre Kor and Kbal Romeas communes refused to move out and abandon land they have occupied for generations.

On the tenth day of the test on Monday, eight of 10 sluices were closed during the initial round of testing, pushing up the water level in the Sesan River to 66 meters (217 feet) at the dam site, they said.

The water level will reach a height of 67 meters (220 feet) at Sre Kor commune. In the meantime, the Sre Pork Bridge and a few roads in Kbal Rormeas, where the dam is located, are now flooded, villagers said.

Um Reth, a representative from Cambodia’s Royal Group, which is part of the joint venture with China’s Hydrolancang International Energy that has built the dam, told RFA’s Khmer Service that Sre Kor and Kbal Rormeas will be flooded when the other two sluices are closed.

He also said that weather conditions are contributing to the elevated water level.

“There are rain storms in the area,” he said. “The water level may be higher than anticipated. The Sre Pork Bridge shouldn’t be inundated, but now it has already been flooded.”

Futh Khoeun, a resident of Old Sre Kor village told RFA that those who have refused to leave the area remain in their homes there, although authorities have imposed some restrictions on people’s movements in Sre Kor and Kbal Rormeas.

Authorities also have prevented some visitors from entering the area.

About 124 families in Sre Kor commune and 58 families in Kbal Rormeas commune have refused compensation plans offered by the government and the joint venture.

They say they do not want to move to a new location because it would be much more difficult for them to eke out a living and because they do not want to abandon their ancestors’ tombs and the place they have called home for generations.

Hundreds of others have already accepted compensation offered to them and left the area near the dam’s reservoir to resettle in new homes.

On July 5, the joint venture that built the dam said it would start testing the facilities from mid-July to mid-August, during which the water level of the river is projected to rise to 72 meters (236 feet).

Once it becomes operational in September, the Lower Sesan 2 will be the largest hydropower dam in Cambodia.

Reported by Chanthy Men for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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