Reporters and supporters of human rights activist Ny Chakrya were barred from entering Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday, as he sought to avert charges being laid against him in a case described by advocates as “judicial harassment”.
Chakrya, head of the human rights and legal aid section of local NGO Adhoc, faces potential charges of “public defamation”, “acts of slanderous denunciation”, and “publication of commentaries to put pressure on the judiciary”, brought against him by prosecutors at Siem Reap Provincial Court.
The accusations are based on comments he made during a May 12 press conference in Phnom Penh condemning the arbitrary arrest and detention of Ven Lorn and Beourn Sok, two residents of Chup Romdeng village in Siem Reap province’s Svay Leu district, who are involved in a high-profile land dispute.
On June 17, Lorn and Sok both were found guilty of inciting a group of residents to destroy and intrude on the property of agricultural development company Community Takhmao Development Agricultural & Industrial. They received six- and eight-month prison terms, respectively.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, an organisation that seeks to prevent the repression of rights workers, branded the proceedings against Chakrya “judicial harassment”, aimed at derailing his efforts to provide legal assistance to victims of human rights violations.
Emerging from the court yesterday after the two-hour preliminary hearing, Chakrya remained bullish about the case against him.
“The evidence we have presented shows it does not make sense for them to accuse me of defamation, framing, or putting pressure on the court’s jurisdiction,” he said.
According to Chakrya, his proof includes documents from Siem Riep’s provincial government that he says back the claims of the men he was defending at the press conference. Nevertheless, he remained cautious about his prospects of escaping charges and a potential lawsuit.
“Confident? No,” he said. “But I have very strong evidence.”
Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor Seang Sok declined to comment on the case, while the deputy prosecutor in Siem Reap Sok Keo Bandit and the investigating judge Ki Rithy could not be reached for comment.
Chakrya’s statements were made in front of dozens of supporters gathered outside the courthouse, with more than 40 leaving their homes in Tbong Khmum province before daybreak to visit the capital and lend him their support.
According to Un Songcheng, who said she was spending $10 on transportation and losing $5 in wages as an agricultural labourer to be there, people from her community felt compelled to offer Chakrya their support because of the work he has done to help them in their battle for land rights.
“He is a patriot and he helps the weak people; he has not done anything illegal, so we came here to support him, because we are worried that he might face injustice,” she said.
With prosecutors set to present more evidence to the court, it is still unclear whether Chakrya will face formal charges.