The spokesman for the Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC) on Saturday strongly denied allegations made by a UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) special rapporteur that government law enforcement had restricted rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
Ministry of Justice and CHRC spokesman Chin Malin released a statement adamantly rejecting the allegations after receiving a UNHRC press release on Friday which expressed concern over two arrests made during commemorations for the third anniversary of the death of slain political analyst Kem Ley.
Malin’s statement said the UNHRC allegations were groundless.
“As spokesman for the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, I would like to strongly deny the unfounded allegations against the Royal Government of Cambodia, which are based on false and biased information and on a political agenda with double standards.
“The arrests of Kong Raiya and Suong Neakpoan do not constitute a restriction of freedom of expression or peaceful assembly.
“Rather it was law enforcement by competent authorities to prevent social unrest arising from acts of malicious intent to stir up turmoil and provoke anger among Cambodians and rebellion against the legitimate Royal Government of Cambodia. The local authorities had enough information to take legal action,” he said.
Malin also referred to a separate case, saying former Radio Free Asia (RFA) journalists Oun Chhin and Yeang Sothearin had not acted following standards of professional journalism.
“The legal action taken against them was not an attack on freedom of expression or press freedom, because their activities were not in keeping with the practice of professional journalists.
“Their activities were found to constitute an offence and they were charged with providing foreign states with false information that jeopardised national security and other charges under the provisions of the Criminal Code of the Kingdom of Cambodia, based on intelligence information and other evidence.
“The legal measures taken by the Royal Government did not specifically target any group or person as the groundless claims alleged. Cambodia is a democratic country that respects human rights and the rule of law. The special rapporteur is not in a position to a judge who is guilty or not guilty.
“The appeal made to the government to release suspects or dismiss charges against anyone undergoing court proceedings was a call which was not based on the law or the Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
“Only the courts have the right to rule to detain or not detain anyone and dismiss charges or not. The courts base their decisions on applicable legal procedures and cannot be ordered on what to do by any outside institution,” Malin wrote.
Friday’s UNHRC statement said: “We are concerned about the arrest and detention of and criminal charges laid against Raiya and Neakpoan.
“According to the information we have received, both men participated lawfully and were legitimately exercising their freedom of speech. Neakpaon was about to mark the anniversary in a peaceful way.
“One again, we are concerned that the authorities are failing to respect freedom of expression and freedom to peacefully assemble.”
The UNHRC called on Cambodian authorities to release the two men, drop the charges against them and urged that criminal procedures be halted against the two RFA journalists.
The council also requested that the government take immediate measures to safeguard the safety of journalists, who it said were under attack for implementing their rights and freedom of expression.
Raiya was arrested on July 9 for selling T-shirts featuring Ley’s images and quotes on Facebook and providing detailed information for taxi drivers to travel to a venue marking the anniversary of Ley’s murder.
Neakpoan was detained the following morning while trying to attend the commemorations. Both men were charged with inciting others to commit a crime and placed under pre-trial detention.
Popular activist Ley, 45, was shot twice with a Glock handgun at a Caltex petrol station cafe on the capital’s Monivong Boulevard in Chamkarmon district’s Tonle Bassac commune on July 10, 2016.