PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE...
...according to global human rights watchdog Amnesty
International, who are now locked up in Sihanoukville
jail. Licadho worker Kim Sen and his family.
LEGAL proceedings for the Licadho human rights employees - currently jailed for their
alleged part in the toxic waste demonstrations - have been sullied by intimidation,
threats and improper conduct, according to rights workers.
Since the Dec 21 arrest of Kim Sen and Meas Minear, one lawyer and several potential
witnesses have been threatened and relatives of other arrested demonstrators have
been intimidated, said an anonymous rights worker. In addition, Licadho officials
have complained of serious procedural misconduct during the arrest of their employees.
During a recent meeting between Iv Sopheap, the lawyer for Meas Minear, and the director
of the Sihanoukville prison, words were apparently exchanged which a rights employee
described as intimidation. "This seemed like a threat to scare [Sopheap] and
warn him not to take the case too strongly," said the worker.
Another rights worker confirmed that the threat had been taken seriously. He had
received reports that lawyers involved in the case had been followed.
Sopheap (who has this week been called as a witness and will therefore be replaced
by a new lawyer) had been meeting with the prison director to discuss the case against
the two Licadho workers accused of robbery and wrongful damage to property during
Dec 19 demonstrations. They have been refused bail, despite repreated assurances
from Licadho that the men would be available for trial.
Court prosecutor Mam Mith said that bail had been refused because the court was afraid
that the two rights workers would threaten local witnesses not to testify against
But according to the second rights worker, potential witnesses have already been
menaced by anonymous men to attest against the Licadho employees.
"Market vendors have been threatened to testify against Licadho, and relatives
of arrested demonstrators have been told that they should persuade their relatives
to testify" in exchange for lighter sentences or no convictions.
The case is already seen by some as a worrying indicator of a government crackdown
on rights workers. It is the first time rights workers have been imprisoned in Cambodia
since the elections of 1993.
Dr Kek Galabru, President of Licadho, said: "I am afraid, I am very afraid that
it's a negative message to local human rights workers."
Licadho have claimed at least three serious errors were made in the arrest procedure,
including failure to obtain warrants and denial of access to lawyers for the two
accused. Lawyers were not given access to the prosecutor's evidence, which included
video footage and photographs.
However, Dr Galabru said that at a human rights action committee meeting in Phnom
Penh Dec 5 Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng had told her that the photographic evidence
had been dropped, and that there were instead five witnesses to the "robbery".
The question of the purported evidence against the Licadho pair erupted into a row
last week between prosecutor Mith and Ministry of Justice officials. Mith said he
had been visited by the officials who told him there was not enough evidence to prosecute
the Licadho pair.
"They said, ëso far the system of the court is zero'," said Mith, who claims
to have enough evidence to prosecute despite numerous reports from independent investigations
that the evidence is too flimsy. "They came to abuse me. I have been working
hard for my reputation for a very long time, and I am angry when someone abuses me
PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE...
...according to global human rights watchdog Amnesty International, who are now locked up in Sihanoukville jail. Meas Minear, and his family, photographed at the beach in Sihanoukville.
The accused must wait until next week to discover whether their second appeal for
bail will be overturned.
Amnesty International has dubbed them "prisoners of conscience". Demelza
Stubbings from Amnesty's London office said the plight of Sen and Minear was "a
very sad beginning for human rights in Cambodia in 1999. The Cambodian authorities
must realise that human rights work is a legitimate activity, not a criminal offence".
Mam Mith, meanwhile, is also the prosecutor for the investigation into the government
officals who approved the waste import - and is being threatened himself, he said,
not to file suit against the officials.
"I have been told by people that are honest to me that if I take the lawsuit
against them [the officials], I will be killed", he said.
But, he said: "I am not afraid. I must convict them, whatever their ranks or