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NGOs rally support for summonsed worker

Charges against outspoken Adhoc head of monitoring Chan Soveth are baseless, politically motivated and threaten to undermine human rights work in Cambodia, a coalition of NGOs said yesterday.

Soveth, who has been summonsed to court on August 24 over the vague charge of assisting “specific perpetrators”, spent yesterday working on a human rights project with Anti-Corruption Unit President Om Yentieng in Sihanoukville.

But according to NGOs, legal action against Soveth has placed the future of such rights work under serious threat.

“Soveth’s summons represents the boldest attack against human rights work that we’ve seen in a decade,” Suon Bunsak, the executive secretary of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee said in a statement yesterday from 20 NGOs.

Soveth’s summons, issued last week, does not specify who he is supposed to have assisted, but an anonymous court official told the Post the charges relate to an alleged secessionist plot in Kratie province’s Chhloung district, which authorities claim was led by Bun Ratha.

“Soveth has been summoned to answer charges that he illegally aided a resident of a Kratie village that was brutally raided by armed government forces in May,” the NGO statement said. “The summons was issued less than two weeks after a nationally televised speech by the Prime Minister [Hun Sen] in which he implored an unnamed NGO worker to ‘confess’ to his role in aiding the Kratie villagers.”

Hun Sen went on to ask if that worker had been questioned.

Soveth said yesterday he would attend court because he did not want to be arrested.

“But the [Phnom Penh Municipal Court] has not adhered to correct procedure with my case – it accused me before issuing a summons,” he said.

Suon Bunthoeun, human rights defenders project coordinator for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the summons was an example of government intimidation.

“I think the government is trying to stop human rights defenders speaking out,” he said, adding Soveth was targeted because he had closely monitored issues in Kratie and given advice to victims of land disputes.

To contact the reporters on this story: May Titthara at titthara.may@phnompenhpost.com
Shane Worrell at shane.worrell@phonmpenhpost.com

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