Khmer News in En

Demonstrators Attacked as a Cambodian Court Convicts a Prominent Activist

Security guards outside a Phnom Penh courthouse attacked demonstrators who came to support land rights activist Tep Vanny during her trial Thursday for a 2013 protest near Prime Minister Hun Sen’s home.

As the Phnom Penh Municipal Court handed Tep Vanny a 30-month sentence for aggravated intentional violence, Makara district security forces were chasing away and beating about 50 supporters.

“While we are trying to support Tep Vanny, the forces pushed us and seriously beat us,” Song Sreyleap told RFA’s Khmer Service. “They kicked a lady who was three months pregnant and they smashed Bov Sophea to ground.”

Song Sreyleap, Bov Sophea and Tep Vanny came to prominence as activists fighting the Boeung Kak Lake land grab, when some 3,500 families were evicted from the 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.

“It is so unjust that the court did not do its work,” Tep Vanny shouted in the court. “I hope Prime Minister Hun Sen will help me out”.

Am Sam Ath, an official with the human rights group LICADHO, said the verdict was unfair.

“The authorities should conduct a prompt investigation before the court sentences the defendant,” he told RFA. “While the plaintiffs don’t have any witnesses, the court has already come to a decision. I think it is unacceptable.”

The protest occurred in 2013, but Tep Vanny wasn’t charged until August, when the case was reactivated when she was arrested for participating in another protest.

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

While Ouk Rantana and Hor Heun, the plaintiffs in the case, were in the court compound they didn’t sit in the hearing room. The court clerk read the plaintiffs’ report which accused Tep Vanny of ordering the protesters to commit violence against security forces in 2013.

Tep Vanny’s witnesses say that, in fact, was not Tep Vanny who ordered the protestors to attack. They say security forces launched the attack.

Some of protesters were wounded, knocked unconscious, lost teeth, and some suffered broken arms.

“They don’t have any evidence to charge my daughter,” said Tep Vanny’s mother Sy Hiep. “I urge Prime Minister Hun Sen, Bun Rany [Hun Sen’s wife], and the United Nations help my daughter. She has never hit anyone.”

In addition to the jail time, Tep Vanny was also fined five million riel (U.S. $1,250), and ordered to pay compensation of four million riel (U.S. $1,000) to one of the plaintiffs and five million riel (U.S. 1,250) to the other.

Bail denied for Kem Sokha Five

Cambodia’s appeals court denied a request from four officials with the human-rights group ADHOC and a National Election Commission official who were charged in the government’s wide-ranging probe into opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party lead Kem Sokha’s alleged affair.

Lim Mony, Nay Vanda, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, all workers for ADHOC (the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association) were charged with bribery. National Election Commission (NEC) deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya was charged with accessory to bribery for attempting to keep Kem Sokha’s alleged mistress quiet.

The appeals court judges expressed concern that the five would flee while the court investigated the case.

Lor Chunthy, a lawyer for the defendants, told RFA that the court decision seems like a pre-judgment.

“The court is afraid that our clients would not come to the court even though our clients’ passports have already been withdrawn,” he said.

While the court case against them continues, Kem Sokha and a local Cambodia National Rescue Party official were granted royal pardons in the case.

The pardons came after Prime Minister Hun Sen, who heads the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, asked the King Norodom Sihamoni to issue them.

Reported for RFA’s Khmer Service by Moniroth Morm and Sonorng Kher. Translated by Sarada Taing.

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Hun Sen Hints at Military Action If He Loses Cambodia’s Election

Prime Minister Hun Sen ratcheted up his rhetoric against his opponents on Wednesday, hinting that he might deploy military force against any political party that attempts to wrest power away from the Cambodian strong man.

“Some individuals dared to claim that in 2018, we would be crushed because we wouldn’t recognize the election results,” he said. “They predicted that in 2018 they could win, and if we don’t hand over power to them, they will crush us. How can this happen if the troops are in my hand?”

Hun Sen’s remarks during Wednesday’s commencement exercise at the National Institute of Education in Phnom Penh came as he and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) are pushing new rules through parliament that would give the government vast power over political parties.

National elections in Cambodia are scheduled for 2018, while local commune elections will be held in June of this year.

Among the amendments to Cambodia’s law on political parties that Hun Sen and the CPP are seeking is one that seeks to bar anyone convicted in Cambodian courts from holding a political party’s top office.

The “culprit law” would also dissolve any party whose president is convicted of a crime and would enable the government to seize the party’s property.

Cambodian courts are notorious for their lack of independence. Opposition politicians often find themselves before Hun Sen’s pliant courts on various charges.

If the changes are approved by the Cambodian Senate and signed by the King Norodom Sihamoni, as expected, the amendments would also give the Cambodian Supreme Court the power to dissolve a party caught violating a list of vague offenses. The Interior Ministry would also be empowered to indefinitely suspend a party for the similarly vague reasons.

Transition of power

During his remarks, Hun Sen also took a swipe at Sam Rainsy, who was president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) until he resigned in an effort to preserve the CNRP.

“You declare the results now while the election has yet to be held, and then you keep talking about winning and change,” he said. “Yes, you can change. Change from staying freely outside to being in jail!”

Sam Rainsy has been living in France since 2015 to avoid arrest in a defamation case brought by former Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in 2008. In October, Hun Sen ordered police, immigration, and aviation authorities to “use all ways and means” to prevent the opposition leader from returning to the country.

In December 2016, Sam Rainsy wrote on his Facebook page: “In 2018, the CNRP will form a new and legitimate government and what will remain from Hun Sen’s CPP will just be a bunch of rebels who will be crushed by the legitimate government commanding the national armed forces with the support of the international community on the basis of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements.”

The agreements ended the Cambodia-Vietnam War and established modern Cambodia after years of rule by the bloody Khmer Rouge and Vietnamese occupation.

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann told RFA that the CNRP doesn’t want a war, but a peaceful transition of power.

“If we win the election it means that we have strong support from the people in the whole country,” he said. “That strong support is a foundation toward a peaceful power transfer like what countries usually do.”

Other countries weigh in

The latest salvo in the political battle comes as foreign governments, including those which helped war-torn Cambodia rebuild 20 years ago, decried the proposed party law changes.

The U.S. Embassy said it was “deeply concerned” that the amendments were passed with little consultation or public debate.

“Any government action to ban or restrict parties under the new amendments would constitute a significant setback for Cambodia’s political development and would seriously call into question the legitimacy of the upcoming elections,” the American mission said.

It called on Hun Sen’s government to ensure that the elections this year and next “are free, open, and transparent, and that all political parties have the opportunity to compete on an equal basis.”

“Any government action to ban or restrict parties under the new amendments would constitute a significant setback for Cambodia’s political development and would seriously call into question the legitimacy of the upcoming elections,” the U.S. embassy said.

Australia and the European Union also questioned the wisdom of the party law changes.

“The Australian Government encourages the Cambodian Government to ensure credible and transparent elections by maintaining political space for all voices and views to be heard,” the embassy told RFA” Khmer service.

The EU mission in Phnom Penh questioned how the changes would affect the “long-term stability of the country,” saying the changes “would potentially allow for arbitrary restrictions of political party activities or for their dissolution.”

It added: “Such actions against opposition parties would call into question the legitimacy of the coming elections.”

Other countries should butt out

Hun Sen chastised the foreign nations, particularly the United States, saying that Cambodian affairs should be left up to the Khmers.

“All foreigners should understand that the Khmer story should be solved by Khmer,” he said. “It is true that I need your aid. It is true that I need to do business with you and need cooperation with you. However, I have never interfered in your international affairs.”

Hun Sen accused Washington of being hypocritical, noting the bombing campaign in Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

“When you bombed on my country and you killed my people, did you ever think about human rights?” he said. “Cambodian law which have been passed by the National Assembly is not a law to kill the people like you used to kill Cambodian people.”

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

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Cambodia’s Party-Busting Legislation Makes Headway

The Cambodian Senate is reviewing a controversial series of legal changes that could give Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government vast new powers over political parties.

The changes were approved by the National Assembly on Monday with only the votes of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) as the opposition Cambodia National Renewal Party (CNRP) boycotted the parliament in protest.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has been pushing the changes as a way to keep “culprits” who have been convicted of crimes form taking over a political party.

While Hun Sen painted the changes as necessary to protect Cambodian democracy, in effect, they give the government the legal power to eliminate any opposition.

“We have already sent the draft to the legal commission so they can begin examining this amendment,” Senate spokesman Mam Bun Neang told RFA’s Khmer Service. “They will then ask permission from the permanent committee to put it before the full senate.”

The senate is expected to rubber stamp the legislation, and King Norodom Sihamoni is also expected to sign it into law.

Just the threat of the changes has already cost the CNRP its long-term president, as Sam Rainsy resigned earlier this month in an effort to preserve the party.

One of the changes sought by Hun Sen would bar anyone convicted of a crime from holding the top offices in a political party.

Cambodian courts are notorious for their lack of independence as opposition politicians often find themselves sentenced by pliant jurists on various charges.

Sam Rainsy is no exception having been found guilty in several questionable cases.

Hun Sen has said that the law needs to be changed to rid Cambodian politics of “any individual with culprit status.”

“We shall ban not just a few people, but we shall get rid of the whole slate so that they are deterred,” he said earlier in February.

Cambodia’s local elections are set for June 2017 and national elections are scheduled for 2018. In the disputed 2013 elections, the CPP lost 22 seats in its worst showing since 1998.

“Once it comes into effect, the Interior Ministry will have full ability to implement it and sweep out any political parties that do not fulfill their functions and duties as political parties,” CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun told The Cambodia Daily after the National Assembly vote on Monday.

While Cambodia’s national legislature was reviewing the new law, election observer the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (COMFREL) released a report that found a decrease in the National Assembly’s independence and productivity in 2016.

“The parliament’s drop in effectiveness results from violation of the parliamentarians’ legislative immunity,” COMFREL Executive Director Koul Panha told RFA.

COMFREL’s report on the National Assembly for 2016 found that the ruling party seriously violated the opposition party parliamentarians’ immunity and reduced the role of the opposition party in parliament.

Moreover, COMFREL found that the ruling party’s lawmakers allowed the arrest and detention the opposition party’s lawmakers.

Reported for RFA’s Khmer Service by Moniroth Morm and Thai Tha. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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Cambodian Political Analyst Arrested For Defaming Prime Minister

Prominent Cambodian political analyst and social commentator Kim Sok was arrested on Friday and charged with inciting social chaos and defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen during a radio interview with RFA’s Khmer Service last week.

Hundreds of supporters protested in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court demanding justice for Kim Sok, who is being detained temporarily in Prey Sar prison on the city’s outskirts as he awaits trial.

The court ordered that he be held after he attended a morning hearing about the U.S. $500,000 defamation lawsuit brought against him by Hun Sen.

Court spokesman Ly Sophanna told reporters that the investigating judge handling the case issued a ruling that Kim Sok be held on charges of inciting social chaos and defamation because of comments made during the radio interview that Hun Sen believed implied his government was behind last year’s murder of popular political pundit Kem Ley.

A prison officer told RFA’s Khmer Service that Kim Sok is locked up in the same building where Oeuth Ang, the man accused of shooting Kem Ley to death last July, is detained. Oueth Ang’s trial is scheduled for March.

On Thursday, the same court had denied Kim Sok’s request to delay the hearing so he could have more time to find an attorney to represent him in the lawsuit.

Hun Sen sued Kim Sok on Monday for “inciting social chaos” over accusations that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) led by the prime minister had orchestrated the July 2016 murder of Kem Ley.

Kim Sok told RFA that he couldn’t find a lawyer quickly because the attorneys he contacted declined to handle the case or wanted to charge him more than he could afford.

Walk to the courthouse

Prior to his arrival at court, Kim Sok walked from the Wat Pothiyaram pagoda, also known as Wat Chas, accompanied by nearly a dozen Buddhist monks led by prominent monk Buth Buntenh, founder of the Independent Monks Network.

After they left the pagoda and reached a point east of Chroy Changvar Bridge, they were temporarily blocked by district authorities and security guards who prevented the monks from accompanying Kim Sok to court.

Authorities later allowed some of the monks to cross the bridge on foot, while others were made to hire motorized rickshaw drivers.

Several hundred human rights observers, journalists, moto-taxi drivers, and passengers joined the walk to the courthouse.

Prior to his arrest, Kim Sok told reporters that he wanted Cambodians to work toward a democratic society.

“I request that our citizens participate together in practicing their rights as entrusted in a democratic society so that we achieve our common goal for the sake and interest of the nation as a whole,” he said.

“I would also like to reiterate that I will not change my stance and that I will never quit, provided that the goal for my country’s real change toward democracy has not yet been attained,” he said.

“Regardless of my situation, I request that our citizens in the whole country and the world participate in democratic activities so that we can push forward this common goal toward the end,” Kim Sok said.

Hun Sen, who has been in power for 31 years, has stepped up legal attacks on government critics and members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) as the country gears up for local elections later this year and general elections in 2018.

OHCHR weighs in

Wan-Hea Lee, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) representative in Cambodia, called for a fair trial conducted by an independent court to determine Kim Sok’s guilt or innocence.

“As feared, he was arrested prior to a trial, which should be exceptional but is unfortunately far too common in Cambodia,” she said in an email to RFA.

“The lack of clear standards as to what constitutes defamation gives rise to its abuse against vocal individuals, as highlighted by the special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Cambodia during her visit last October.”

Lee noted that in 2015, the U.N. Human Rights Committee recommended that Cambodia refrain from prosecuting representatives from civil society for expressing their opinions and consider decriminalizing defamation.

“OHCHR concurs with all these views and recommendations,” she said.

Reported by Moniroth Morm for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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Cambodian Court Denies Delay Request in Hun Sen Suit

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday denied Kim Sok’s request to delay a hearing so the social and political commentator could find time to hire an attorney in a $500,000 lawsuit filed by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Court spokesman Ly Sophanna told RFA’s Khmer Service that Kim Sok’s motion to delay was denied without comment. The hearing is scheduled for Friday.

Hun Sen sued Kim Sok on Monday for “inciting social chaos” over accusations that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) had orchestrated the July 2016 murder of popular political analyst Kem Ley. Hun Sen heads the CPP.

Kim Sok told RFA that he couldn’t find a lawyer quickly because the attorneys he contacted were shying away from the case, or they cost more than he could afford.

“There are two reasons that they can’t help me,” he said. “One is my case is a big, serious case, and two, I haven’t found a free lawyer to help me in this case yet, so that I am trying to earn more money in order to hire a proper lawyer.”

Kim Sok told RFA that what he said about the murder of Kem Ley was not an accusation, but a reflection of what many Cambodians believe.

“A person who is speaking the truth and wants justice is not a person who is creating social chaos,” he told RFA earlier this week. “A person who creates serious social chaos is a person who doesn’t respect the law.”

Cambodian courts are notorious for their lack of independence, and opposition politicians and critics of Hun Sen often find themselves before the courts on various charges.

A new case

Kim Sok’s legal problems are only likely to multiply as Hun Sen sued him a second time today. The second lawsuit is based on comments Kim Sok made to RFA when explaining the initial comments that got him into trouble. Hun Sen attorney Ky Tech said Hun Sen is demanding 10 million riel (U.S. $2,500) in the new suit.

He told RFA that if Kim Sok can’t pay then the court will take a measure against him.

“A person who does wrong, can’t just run away without compensation,” Ky Tech said. “If he doesn’t have money, the court will send him to jail.”

During a speech inaugurating a bridge along the Cambodian-Chinese border in Kandal province on Monday, Hun Sen said Kim Sok was inciting social chaos and threatened him with jail and monetary forfeiture.

“Maybe you will face two years in prison and have to pay all the money,” Hun Sen said. “Don’t even say you don’t have money. If you don’t have the compensation money, we will confiscate your house and sell it.”

Monks’ protest planned

Kem Ley was gunned down in broad daylight on July 10 when he stopped in a Star Mart convenience store beside a Caltex gas station in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh.

Although authorities charged a former soldier, identified as Oueth Ang, with the killing, many in Cambodia don’t believe the government’s story that Kem Ley was killed by the man over a debt. The accused killer had never moved in the same circles as Kem Ley and had used the alias Chuop Samlap, which roughly translated means “meet to kill.”

Just days before he was gunned down, Kem Ley had discussed on an 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 case without revealing its findings.

Buddhist monk But Buntenh, founder of the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice told RFA that he will walk with Kim Sok to Phnom Penh Court on Friday in a show of solidarity.

He told RFA that several other monks plan to join Kim Sok on the march from the Chroy Changva bridge area to the courthouse in a prayerful manner.

(Reported by Moniroth Morm for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.)

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European Union Ambassador Expresses Concern Over Cambodian Elections

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party is pushing ahead with its attempt to reign in other political parties ahead of elections this year despite concerns from the European Union’s ambassador to Phnom Penh.

“The EU believes that it is in the interests of Cambodia, and in the interests of long-term stability in the country, for there to be elections that command the confidence of the voters, and allow the people of Cambodia to choose whom they wish to represent them at commune an national level,” EU Ambassador to Cambodia George Edgar said in a statement released Tuesday.

“In that context, we look to the authorities to ensure a political environment in which each opposition parties and civil society can all function freely,” Edgar added.

Edgar’s statement comes as the Cambodian National Assembly is poised to revamp the nation’s law on political parties just before the commune elections later this year and national elections in 2018.

According to local media reports, changes to the law would ban anyone convicted of a crime from standing as a candidate in elections, prohibit demonstrations after elections, and allow for the dissolution of political parties that “act illegally,” in an effort to prevent insurrections.

The change was spurred by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is head of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and has ruled Cambodia for more than three decades.

Hun Sen has said he is seeking to ban politicians who have committed crimes from serving as party leaders or deputy leaders.

The threat of the changes has already led Hun Sen’s chief rival to resign as head of the main opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP).

Sam Rainsy announced his resignation as CNRP president on Saturday, saying he didn’t want to destabilize the opposition.

Cambodian courts are notorious for their lack of independence and have ben by activists in Cambodia and international observers as doing Hun Sen’s bidding in handing out questionable rulings on his opponents.

Opposition politicians often find themselves before the courts on various charges, and Sam Rainsy is no exception as he has been on the losing end of several court cases brought by Hun Sen or other CPP members.

Sam Rainsy has been living in France since 2015 to avoid arrest in a defamation case brought by former Foreign Minister Hor Namhong in 2008. In October, Hun Sen ordered police, immigration, and aviation authorities to “use all ways and means” to prevent the opposition leader from returning to the country.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday Sam Rainsy that he doesn’t have any plans to nominate his wife or his children to replace him in the CNRP.

In the post, Sam Rainsy said a Phnom Penh Post story citing a letter to acting CNRP chief Kem Sokha suggesting that his wife Tioulong Saumura become the party’s leader was fake.

In contrast to Sam Rainsy’s rejection of nepotism accusations, Hun Sen has installed family members in important positions.

His second son, Hun Manith, was appointed as deputy head of the CPP’s internal monitoring committee, the Phnom Penh Posts reported, quoting a statement signed by the prime minister last week.

Hun Manith is general in the Cambodian armed forces and heads the Defense Ministry’s intelligence department. The monitoring committee is a powerful body within the CPP as it has the power to discipline members who are determined to have done wrong, and fire them.

Reported by Oung Sereyvuth for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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