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Labour Ministry wants charges dropped against rights defender

Khy Sovuthy / Khmer Times Share:
Labour rights defender Moeun Tola was charged with breach of trust. KT/Chor Sokunthea

The Ministry of Labour on Friday asked the court to drop charges against labour rights defender Moeun Tola, who was charged with misappropriating funds raised for slain political analyst Kem Ley’s funeral.

The Ministry of Labour issued a statement on Friday, saying it suggested that Phnom Penh Municipal Court drop the charges against Mr Tola.

“The government has taken measures, according to procedures, in asking for charges against Mr Moeun Tola, who was charged with breach of trust, to be dropped,” it said. “The Cambodian government continues to be determined in promoting the freedom of professional organisations in compliance with the laws of the Kingdom of Cambodia.”

Heng Sour, spokesman for the Ministry of Labour, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mr Tola, the executive director of labour rights group Central, Pa Nguon Teang, an independent media advocate, 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 handling of funds for the funeral.

Mr Tola could not be reached for comment yesterday, but a Central official said that Mr Tola has done nothing wrong.

“I think that he did not commit the crime as charged,” the official said.

Soeng Sen Karuna, senior investigator for human rights group Adhoc, said that if the government thought the court did not have enough evidence, it could request charges to be dropped.

“We are concerned that the court will not follow the request because the court has already charged three people,” Mr Sen Karuna said.

“If the court drops charges against one person, it is unjust for the two others,” he added, referring to Ven Buntenh and Mr Nguon Teang.

“I think that if the court drops the charge against all three people, then it will be good because it will allow them to continue to work for society in the future.”

Ly Sophanna, spokesman for Phnom Penh Municipal Court, could not be reached for comment.

On February 19, four global unions and more than 30 national and international human rights NGOs also called for an end to the prosecution of Mr Tola.

“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.”

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