More than 30 civil society organisations have called for charges against three NGO leaders over the handling of funds for Kem Ley’s funeral ceremony to be dropped.
The three leaders, who were members of the funeral commission for the murdered political analyst, include Pa Nguon Teang, executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media, Moeun Tola, head of labour rights group Central, and Venerable But Buntenh, head of the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice.
They were charged in early January by Phnom Penh Municipal Court with breach of trust following a complaint filed by Cambodian Youth Party leader Pich Sros.
A joint statement from 35 civil society organisations released yesterday said the allegations against the three leaders were baseless, and noted that Mr Ley’s family did not support the complaint filed by Mr Sros.
“These unsubstantiated charges come amidst a severe government crackdown on dissent in Cambodia, which has dramatically diminished the space for human rights defenders and civil society organisations to operate,” the statement said.
The statement called for the dropping of charges against all three, and urged Cambodian authorities to immediately stop the persecution of civil society organisations, human rights defenders and activists who are undertaking legitimate and vital work that benefits sustainable development.
“We urge the government to respect the constitution and international human rights laws, and enable a vibrant civil society that can thrive without undue restrictions and harassment,” the statement added.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the statement was misleading because it failed to recognise that the government was simply strengthening the rule of law.
“This rhetoric from civil society organisations cannot be accepted,” he said. “This case is in the hands of the court and is not related to the government, which is simply supporting the implementation of the country’s laws.”
Mr Nguon Teang and Ven Buntenh have fled the country, while Mr Tola remains in Cambodia. None could be reached for comment yesterday.