Regarding the Arrest of Kem Sokha
Kem Sokha, President of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, was arrested by Cambodian authorities on December 31, 2005. The arrest stemmed from a banner displayed (on International Human Rights Day, ironically) at the CCHR, criticizing the government's settlement of a border dispute with Vietnam. Also released on bail were Yeng Vireak, Pa Nguon Teang, Mam Sonando, and Rong Chhun.
His release came on the occasion of the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh. According to government spokesman Om Yentieng, "This is a gift for Mr. Christopher on the day of the inauguration of the new embassy." (Christopher Hill is the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific.)
Details on the original arrests can be found in statements from Amnesty International and other supporters of Kem Sokha, reprinted below.
AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL STATEMENT:
PUBLIC AI Index: ASA 23/002/2006
UA 06/05 Prisoners of conscience/human rights defenders at risk
06 January 2006
KINGDOM OF CAMBODIA
Kem Sokha (m), President, Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
Yeng Virak (m), Director, Community Legal Education Center (CLEC)
Pa Nguon Teang (m), CCHR Acting Director/Radio Director
Rong Chhun (m), President, Cambodian Independent Teachers'Association (CITA)
Mam Sonando (m), Director, Beehive Radio
Chea Mony (m), President, Free Trade Union of Workers
Ea Channa (m), Deputy Secretary-General, Students' Movement for Democracy
Men Nath (m), President, Cambodian Independent Civil Servants Association
Prince Sisowath Thomico (m), Secretary to former King Sihanouk
Say Bory (m), Advisor to former King Sihanouk
The Cambodian authorities are cracking down on critics of the government, taking legal action against them that appears to be politically motivated. The first five people named above have been arrested, and are facing trial on charges that carry sentences of up to five years' imprisonment. The authorities are seeking the second five. Other human rights defenders and perceived critics of the government are feared to be at risk of arrest, and many have gone into hiding or fled the country.
This latest crackdown on freedom of expression was sparked by criticism of a controversial border deal reached with Viet Nam by Prime Minister Hun Sen in October 2005. Hun Sen said at the time that he would sue anyone who accused him of "selling territory", and since then a government lawyer has filed charges of "defamation", "incitement to commit a crime" and "disinformation" against civil society groups, people close to the former king, and human rights defenders.
Police arrested former senator Kem Sokha, now President of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), at the CCHR office in Phnom Penh on 31 December 2005 at around 1.30pm, after a three-hour standoff with CCHR staff, witnessed by diplomats, staff of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and others who had heard the arrest would take place. Yeng Virak, Director of the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), was arrested at his office around two hours later. CCHR Acting Director Pa Nguon Teang was arrested in Stung Treng Province on 4 January 2006 and taken to the capital, Phnom Penh. All three have been charged with criminal defamation, punishable by one year's imprisonment. Under Cambodian law they may be held for up to six months before they go on trial.
They were arrested over a 10 December public rally for International Human Rights Day. CCHR and CLEC were on a committee representing 63 non- governmental organisations that staged the event. Thousands attended the rally, some of whom wrote personal comments on a banner. The defamation charges stem from one of these handwritten comments, which allegedly criticized the border agreement with Viet Nam. Other members of the committee are believed to be at risk of arrest.
Mam Sonando, manager of Beehive Radio (Sambok Khmum), was arrested on 11 October 2005 over an interview with a Paris-based group called Cambodia's Border Committee, which criticised the government's border policies. He was charged with criminal defamation, disinformation and incitement to commit a crime, for which he could be sentenced to several years in prison.
On 14 October, warrants were issued for the arrest of four leaders of the lobby group the Cambodian Watchdog Council, affiliated to the Sam Rainsy Party, which had signed a written statement, criticising the border agreement with Viet Nam. Rong Chhun, President of the Cambodian Independent Teachers' Association, was arrested the next day as he attempted to flee the country. He was charged with criminal defamation and incitement, charges that could lead to several years in prison. The other three - Chea Mony, Ea Channa, Men Nath - are sheltering abroad.
The current coalition government under the leadership of Prime Minister Hun Sen, in power since July 2004, has been stepping up efforts to stifle peaceful dissent over the past year.
In February 2005 the government waived the parliamentary immunity of opposition leader Sam Rainsy and two other opposition lawmakers. Sam Rainsy and one other fled abroad, but Cheam Channy was arrested, and is now a prisoner of conscience, serving a seven-year sentence for allegedly "setting up an illegal armed force" and fraud, handed down by a Military Court after a trial that fell far short of international standards. On 22 December, Sam Rainsy was convicted in absentia at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court of defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh. He was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment and remains abroad.
Cambodia is a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and all the other core international human rights treaties, and has thus committed to respect and protect the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association. These rights are also protected under the Cambodian constitution.
RECOMMENDED ACTION: Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in English or your own language:
- urging the authorities to release immediately and unconditionally Kem Sokha, Yeng Virak, Pa Nguon Teang, Rong Chhun, Mam Sonando and Cheam Channy;
- calling on the authorities to withdraw criminal complaints against all others who have only voiced peaceful dissent;
- asking them to guarantee that all Cambodians will be able to enjoy the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.
Office of the Prime Minister
Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
Fax: +855 12 813 781
+855 23 360 666 (c/o Council of Ministers)
Salutation: Dear Prime Minister
Deputy Prime Minister, Co-Minister of Interior
Ministry of Interior, 275 Norodom Blvd
Phnom Penh, Kingdom of Cambodia
Fax: +855 23 21 27 08
+855 23 726 052
Salutation: Dear Deputy Prime Minister
COPIES TO: diplomatic representatives of Cambodia accredited to your country
or in your region.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat,
or your section office, if sending appeals after 17 February 2006.
PRESS ADVISORY FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JANUARY 10, 2006
PRESS ADVISORY: FREE KEM SOKHA
U.S.A., JANUARY 10, 2006 - Kem Sokha, noted Cambodian human rights and democracy advocate and president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, was arrested December 31, 2005 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The reason for this travesty of justice: a banner held at the December 10, 2005 Human Rights Day rally in Phnom Penh allegedly accused Prime Minister Hun Sen of illegally selling Cambodian land to Vietnam. Sokha is currently being held in a notorious prison outside Phnom Penh in a cell with common criminals.
"We Cambodians in America are concerned that Hun Sen is working to kill democracy by silencing those brave enough to stand up to his bully tactics and gang of thugs," stated Suykry Path, Co-Chair of the "United Cambodian International Council" (UCIC), an umbrella group of Cambodians and their organizations from France, Canada, Australia and the United States. "We call on Cambodians everywhere to get in touch with the governments and leaders in their adopted countries for the defense of freedom, human rights and democracy in Cambodia. We call for the immediate release of Kem Sokha and the other political prisoners Hun Sen is trying to silence,"urged Path.
Free Kem Sokha activities are being spearheaded around the United States and the World. Cambodian - Americans, as well as concerned American friends, have set the weekend of January 13 - 14 for two days of prayer and action for Kem Sokha and all the people of democracy starved Cambodia. Activities include:
January 13, 2006 - Washington, D.C. from 4pm - 7pm. Candlelight prayer vigil for Kem Sokha in front of the White House on Pennsylvania Ave. Buddhist Monks to lead prayers.
January 14, 2006 - Across the United States - Loving-Kindness Ceremony at major Buddhist Temples, Including the following:
Wat TriRatanaram ( Lowell ), 21 Quigley Ave., N. Chelmsford, MA 01863, Tel. 1-978-251-2587 (Time: 9:30am to 1:30pm), Chief Monk: Venerable SAO Khon.
Wat Sanghikaram ( Lynn ), 110 Chestnut St ., Lynn, MA 01902, Tel. 1-781-595-7907 (Time: 9:30am to 1:30pm), Abbot: Venerable THON Suphon.
Wat Khmer Palilay (Phila.), 240 Greenwich St., Philadelphia, PA 19147, Tel. 1-215-339-5830 (Time: 9:30am to 1:30pm), Abbot: Venerable SEM Sakhoeun.
Wat Khmer KampucheaKrom, 10505 Kettle Run Rd., Nockesville, VA 20181, Tel. 1-703-594-2174 (Time: 1:30pm-4:30pm), Chief Monk: Venerable THACH Suon.
Wat Khmer Trigoda Jothi-gnano Chuon Nath, 1720 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90026, Tel. 213-413-3321 (Time: 1:30pm-4:30pm), Chief Monk: Venerable CONG Sophan.
Wat Dhammacakkaram, 8180 Windsor Dr., Mechanicsville, VA 23111, Tel. 1-804-730-3946 (TBA), Chief Monk: Venerable KIM Kang.
Wat Suvannkiry, 3864 52nd Street, San Diego, CA 92105, Tel. 1-619-280-7633 (Time: 9:30am- 1:30pm), Chief Monk: Venerable PRUM Khean.
Wat Buddha Mondal Rangsey, 595 Weld County Rd. #7, Erie, CO 80516, Tel. 1-720-890-7290 (Time:9:30am-1:30pm), Abbot: Venerable ROUNG Mony.
Wat Dhammikaram, 177 Hanover St., Providence, RI 0207, Tel. 1-401-2724641 (Time: 9:30am-1:30pm), Abbot: Venerable MEY Ros.
Wat SamakkiDhammikaram, 26 Rugby Rd., Brooklyn, NY 11226, Tel. 1-718-856-8918 (Time: 9:30am-1:30pm), Abbot: Venerable LONG Mean.
Wat Khemarak Rangsey, 1601 Cunningham Ave, San Jose, CA 95122, Tel. (408) 923-2166 (Time: 6:00pm), Abbot: Venerable THACH Berong.
Wat BuddhasassanaRansey, 2533 Valentine Ave., Fresno, CA 93722, Tel. 1-209-276-2901 (Time: 9:30am-1:30pm) Abbot: Venerable Noun.
Wat Munisotaram, 2925 220 th Street E., Hampton, MN 55031, Tel. 1-651-463-3101 (TBA)
Wat Dhammavisudddhikaram, 5032 nd Ave. S.W., Rochester, MN 55902, Tel. 1-507-281-4808 (TBA)
Wat New Town Rataram, 145 Boggs Hill Rd., Newtown, CT 06470, Tel. 1-203-270-1404 (Time: 9:30am-1:30pm), Abbot: Venerable, President: Mr. ME Pon.
Those attending the Loving-Kindness Ceremony at the Temples will be asked to write letters to their Senators and Members of Congress. Local government leaders and elected officials have been and will be invited to attend at each Temple.
"I am encouraged by these efforts made by Cambodians in America and around the world," stated Monovithya Kem, Kem Sokha's oldest daughter, here in the United States. "On the day I left Cambodia to bring my younger sister to school in America, our father was arrested. Since then the Cambodian community here and around the world have made my sister and I here and my mother in Cambodia feel certain that my father and his fight for democracy in Cambodia is not and will not be forgotten."
Miss Kem is leading the struggle for her fathers freedom through meetings and discussions with Cambodian communities here in the U.S. and around the world. Monovithya is also involved in lobbying members of the U.S. Congress, many friends and acquaintances of her father, Kem Sokha, through his struggle for freedom and democracy in Cambodia.