A United Nations Human Rights Council statement criticising the prosecution of two activists has prompted a swift response from the Cambodia Human Rights Committee, which called the statement groundless.
On Friday, United Nations rights envoy Rhona Smith said in the statement that Kong Raiya and Soung Neakpoan were charged with incitement to commit a felony after they were arrested earlier this month after supporting an event to mark the anniversary of Kem Ley’s murder.
Mr Raiya was arrested on July 9 over a post selling t-shirts featuring an image of Mr Ley, while Mr Neakpoan was arrested on July 10 while attempting to participate in an anniversary ceremony at the petrol station where Mr Ley was gunned down. City Hall had banned the gathering over concerns of public order being affected.
“We are concerned about the arrest, detention and criminal charges brought against Kong Raiya and Soung Neakpoan,” the UN statement said.
“We again call on the government to reverse the current downward trend in enjoyment of fundamental freedoms,” it noted. “Open discussions on a range of subjects, even when dealing with sensitive or critical issues, is not only an end in itself; it is a way to promote ideas, creativity and debate that is needed to propel Cambodia towards sustainable development and lasting peace.”
The UN statement also highlighted the prosecution of journalists and urged the government to protect freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly.
“In light of the criminal proceedings against other independent voices, such as journalists Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, the experts called on the Government of Cambodia to take immediate and meaningful action to protect the safety of journalists who are attacked for exercising their right to freedom of expression,” it said.
On Saturday, CHRC called the UN remarks baseless and denied any restrictions on human rights.
“[CHRC] adamantly refuses the unfounded allegations against the Royal Government of Cambodia, which are baseless, false and biased with motives of a political agenda and double standards in order to mislead the general public,” it said in a statement.
CHRC spokesman Chin Malin yesterday said any measure taken in the past was done in accordance with the laws in Cambodia and that the government does not target any specific groups.
Mr Malin noted that the allegations made against the government were baseless and lacked evidence.
“It’s not restricting the right to express and their right to assemble, but it was implementing laws in order to prevent chaos in society because our police officers had enough evidence that those activities were not connected to them exercising their rights,” he said. “They had the intent to provoke chaos and stir public anger against the Royal Government.”
“Their statement has no influence over our sovereign state, but we wanted to verify in order for them [UN experts] to reconsider those cases and think about our law enforcement,” he added.