NGO Lists ‘Political Prisoners’

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Opposition senator Hong Sok Hour being brought to Phnom Penh Municipal Court on August 15 last year. Supplied

The number of political prisoners in Cambodia’s jails has jumped from 0 to 29 since last May, according to a report released yesterday by human rights group Licadho.
 
However, the government has contested this report, saying the detainees listed by Licadho were imprisoned for criminal activity, not because of their political views.
 
According to Licadho director Naly Pilorge, this is the largest number of political prisoners Cambodia has seen in the last decade.
“Since Licadho began recording such data [before 2006], it is unprecedented for Licadho’s list of political detainees to reach 29,” she said.
 
Since May 2015, political dissidents have been charged with crimes ranging from drug possession and making death threats to forgery. Ms. Pilorge said the variety of charges conceals the fact that they were all arrested for their political views.
 
“Whether the charges were directly political or otherwise, such charges are politically motivated and unlikely to have been brought were it not for the individuals’ politics,” she said.
 
Licadho’s list of political prisoners includes Hong Sok Hour, an opposition politician arrested last August for posting a forged picture of a land treaty between Cambodia and Vietnam on Facebook, and the deputy secretary-general of the National Election Committee (NEC) Ny Chakrya, who has been detained since April awaiting a trial on bribery charges.
 
The list also contains less high-profile prisoners, such as 28-year-old Yun Kimhour, a youth member of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party who has been imprisoned since August last year on charges that include “participation in an insurrectionary movement.”
 
Ms. Pilorge said Licadho will continue to update the list if more people are arrested.
 
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the Licadho report was completely fabricated, adding that there were legal reasons for every arrest.
 
“Licadho is using phony data to mislead the public,” he said. “These people [the detainees] were each charged with criminal activity. Even if they are political figures it doesn’t mean they are above the law.
 
“Licadho is not an NGO, it is a rebellion against the government,” he added.
 
Phil Robertson, the deputy director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, said the arrests were aimed at silencing the opposition, not catching criminals.
 
“The CPP [Cambodia People’s Party] is successfully creating a climate of fear among political activists at precisely the time when civil society should be critically monitoring CPP machinations connected to the NEC and electoral arrangements for the local polls in 2017 and national elections in 2018,” he said.
 
When asked what the government’s response might be to Licadho’s report, Mr. Siphan said he was unsure.
 
“It’s too early for me to tell you what’s going on,” he said. “But we might issue a letter asking them to review their report.”
 
To view the list of political prisoners, visit http://www.licadho-cambodia.org/political_prisoners/

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