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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Fear of arrest drove Adhoc chief abroad

Adhoc director Thun Saray speaks at a press conference in Phnom Penh earlier this year.
Adhoc director Thun Saray speaks at a press conference in Phnom Penh earlier this year. Pha Lina

Fear of arrest drove Adhoc chief abroad

Thun Saray, president of the rights group Adhoc, told the Post late Tuesday that he had no option but to leave Cambodia in May following “direct threats” from the Anti-Corruption Unit in April to arrest him if he continued to oppose the criminal charges against five current and former human rights officials.

Saray, who did not appear before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday to testify in an ongoing bribery case against four Adhoc staffers and one Adhoc staffer-turned-election official, said he moved to Canada fearing a risk to his safety following threats to arrest him.

“I was threatened with arrest and an ‘expansion of the investigation to more persons if I tried to react strongly more against this detention’,” he said, via email.

Following the arrest of Adhoc staffers Lem Mony, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan and Nay Vanda, and National Election Committee deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya, Saray met with ACU head Om Yentieng, who said he was attempting to “limit and keep this case small”.

“I will send only the first batch of evidence to the court, but if you try to fight back, then we will send the second and we also have a third,” Yentieng told Saray in front of reporters at the time. The ACU chief could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Saray maintained that the five jailed officials were innocent but that he chose to remain silent and leave Cambodia in order to prevent an escalation of the situation. “This was extensively discussed by Adhoc and partners – including diplomatic missions – and we came to the conclusion that it was not safe for me to stay in Cambodia,” he said.

This decision to remain silent was extended to the organisation, he said, resulting in reduced press interactions and media releases in the months following the April arrests.

Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager for Licadho, said Saray’s concern for his safety was understandable given the persecution of Adhoc and other human rights officials.

“Human rights defenders work in accordance with the law, but if they are being arrested because of their work, it is a threat,” he added.

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John Lowrie's picture

Dead men also can't tell the truth. And if locked up in prison they are silenced. Thun Saray is quite right to stay safe abroad where he can still direct activities, and his expertise and experience - that cannot be questioned even by the most devout of CPP supporters - remains available to human rights defenders and the wider world. Recent history repeatedly tells us high profile assassinations take place of opponents to ruling party. Kem Lay met this fate. Thun Saray could be next, and the bravest of Cambodia's human rights defenders maintain their devotion despite knowing that they too could be targeted. As if they are too stupid to realize this, timely oral and physical warnings are meted out to them. Such is the culture of absolute loyalty, at any cost, whatever it takes, that the ruling party has created. If this is not its intention, then it needs to say so and to put those words in to real action.