As 10 land-rights activists and a monk prepare to take their appeal against one-year prison terms to the Appeal Court today, rights groups yesterday called for an end to government influence over the judiciary.
“It’s time for Cambodia’s courts to act professionally and independently from the executive and stop the judicial harassment of land rights defenders and peaceful protesters,” said Karim Lahidji, president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), in a joint statement with the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT).
Criticism of the charges against the 11 – arrested over two days in November and all convicted and imprisoned about 24 hours later – also came from rights group Amnesty International.
“These activists are victims of the Cambodian authorities’ relentless crackdown on peaceful protests – they should never have been prosecuted in the first place, let alone jailed,” said Janice Beanland, the organisation’s campaigner on Cambodia.
Amnesty also called on the Kingdom’s development partners to speak out against the convictions.
“Cambodia’s development partners must demand the release of the 11 activists and remind the government of its binding international legal obligation to respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly,” she said.
For the second consecutive day, a throng of security forces confronted land activists trying to stage a monthlong protest in the capital’s public gathering space, Freedom Park, yesterday. Riot police and Daun Penh district security guards blocked the protesters and, for a short while, cornered them near the US Embassy.
“In the morning [today], we will keep protesting … in the afternoon, we will go to the Appeal Court to support the activists and the monk,” Bopha said.
They will be joined by some 500 other human rights defenders and monks who plan to gather outside court, said Bov Sophea, who represents another Boeung Kak group.
“It won’t be a demonstration or an act of putting pressure on the court,” Sophea said. “We just want to strongly support our members and representatives who have been unfairly imprisoned by a municipal court that lacks independence.”
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said authorities would take “administrative” measures if gatherings outside the court affected safety or public order.
Seven of those appealing were convicted under the Traffic Law for blocking a road on November 10 in protest against flooding at Boeung Kak, while the other four were arrested outside the seven’s trial the next day for allegedly inciting violence against a public official.