Four global unions and more than 30 national and international human rights NGOs yesterday called for an end to the alleged politically motivated prosecution of Cambodian human rights defender Moeun Tola.
Mr Tola, freedom of press advocate Pa Nguon Teang and Venerable But Buntenh, an activist monk, were all charged by Phnom Penh Municipal Court in September with breach of trust following a complaint from the Cambodian Youth Party over their handing of funds for the funeral of slain political analyst Kem Ley.
Yesterday the group of 35 human rights organisations said the case was politically motivated and baseless.
“Cambodia’s courts are not independent, but rather are driven by the political interests of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party,” a statement from the group said. “These charges constitute an attempt to silence and punish one of the country’s leading independent voices for worker rights.”
These 35 organisations called upon the government to respect fundamental human rights and to immediately drop the charges against Mr Tola, the executive director of rights group Central, and his two co-defendants.
“If Cambodian authorities want the country to be attractive to responsible brands, it should abandon this course of targeting labour leaders and other civil society members, and drop all false criminal cases,” said Aruna Kashyap, senior counsel in the women’s rights division of Human Rights Watch.
“Brands and international governments should demand to see such trumped up criminal cases dropped as an important sign of good faith engagement by Cambodian authorities to protect and promote labour rights in the country,” she added.
Seoung Sen Karona, a human rights monitor and investigator for rights group Adhoc, said civil society organisations in Cambodia had already called for the court to drop the charges.
He added that there was no clear evidence the three were involved in any type of breach of trust over the funeral funds.
“If we look at the evidence of the charges against the three, they should not be charged,” he said. “So, we also support the call to drop the charges.”
He added that Mr Ley’s family did not support the complaint from the Cambodian Youth Party and that the family also supported the dropping of charges.
Political analyst San Chey said the men charged often criticised the country’s courts and that was likely the reason for their persecution.
“I support this request to drop the charges,” he said. “I want to see improvements in the rights of the people working on the protection of human rights in Cambodia.”