Human rights activists are increasingly at risk of intimidation and persecution by the Cambodian government, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) warned in a statement released Friday.
The AHRC, a Hong Kong-based monitoring group, said that activists have "not been secure in their work" of late, citing in particular the case of Pen Bonnar, the former Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, who was removed from his post when faced with charges of incitement stemming from a 2007 land dispute.
Though local rights groups agreed that government lawsuits have threatened their activities of late, they said the ruling party's offensive against its critics has gone beyond the civil society community.
"Maybe a few years ago it was just the opposition or just land activists, but now it's against everyone," said Naly Pilorge, director of the rights group Licadho, pointing also to cases against workers, union leaders and members of the media.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan dismissed the AHRC statement and declined to discuss it at length. "I'm not making a comment on that statement for two reasons: It's useless, and it does not reflect the truth in Cambodia," he said.
The AHRC cited a report from Adhoc stating that there were 63 cases of government intimidation or prosecution of rights workers in 2008, and added that the situation has worsened this year.
However, it is impossible to gauge the extent of the crackdown using official statistics, argued Cambodian Centre for Human Rights president Ou Virak. "You see a lot of high-profile cases, but then there are a lot of unreported cases of intimidation," he said, noting that these informal threats are especially common in more rural communities.
Ou Virak added that it is difficult to predict when this crackdown will subside: "It's not based on a stated policy.... It's sometimes based [only] on the tempers of a few people."