The Ministry of Labour, three days after calling for charges to be dropped against a prominent labour rights defender, said yesterday it was providing a lawyer for Moeun Tola who was charged with misappropriating funds raised for slain political analyst Kem Ley’s funeral.
Mr Tola, 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 Cambodian Youth Party leader Pich Sros over their handling of funds for the funeral.
Heng Sour, spokesman for the Labour Ministry, said yesterday the ministry was providing Mr Tola with legal assistance.
“We provided a lawyer to defend his case,” Mr Sour said. “We are not sure whether the judge will accept our explanation to dismiss the case or not.”
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.”
Mr Tola responded with optimism yesterday when asked about the ministry’s press release.
“I hope it’s possible,” he said, adding that he was currently in Sweden.
An official from Central said on Sunday that Mr Tola had 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.
Ly Sophanna, spokesman for Phnom Penh Municipal Court, declined to comment yesterday.
Family members of Mr Ley did not support the filing of the legal complaint by the CYP and have said there were no issues in the handling of the funds.
Kem Rithysith, Mr Ley’s brother, previously said he was not involved with Mr Sros’ complaint.
“All my relatives do not support him on this complaint, but it is his right,” he said after the complaint was filed.“I don’t know what, if any, evidence he has for this complaint.”