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Courts seen as avenue to flout justice

Courts seen as avenue to flout justice

CAMBODIA’S courts and security forces are increasingly being used by government officials and private companies to intimidate land-dispute victims, trade unionists and journalists, according to a report to be released today by the rights group Licadho.

“Despite Cambodia being a signatory to numerous international treaties, and the passage of national laws guaranteeing the protection of human rights defenders, the situation has worsened for many [such activists],” Pung Chhiv Kek, Licadho’s founder and president, is quoted as saying in the report.

Those agitating for their rights have “faced an increasingly hostile environment over the past two years, enduring physical violence, illegal arrests, trumped-up criminal charges, obstructions to gatherings and movement, intimidation and forced evictions”, states the report, much of which is devoted to summaries of prominent cases.

Naly Pilorge, director of Licadho, says in the report that bail is frequently used as a mechanism to limit activism, and that people arrested and then released on bail are often ordered by authorities to resign their leadership roles and cease organising protests.

Am Sam Ath, a technical supervisor for Licadho, said such tactics were employed to convince villagers that community representatives had “betrayed the people” and were colluding with companies attempting to grab their land.

“Even if the charges are completely fabricated, the arrest allows authorities to place an individual under surveillance,” Pilorge said, and pointed out that charges and surveillance “can linger for up to 15 years” for a felony and five years for a misdemeanor.

“But in many cases the authorities don’t even have to bother with a trial,” she said. “Intimidation is enough.”

“A typical example of this tactic occurred in May 2009, when four village representatives were detained by the Preah Sihanouk provincial court and accused of inciting and committing violence in connection with a land dispute,” the report says.

After two weeks of detention the men were released on bail, but the charges have never been dropped. Thus, the men are effectively barred from participating in any actions to protect their community’s land.

There are currently 62 human rights defenders unjustly imprisoned in Cambodia, according to Am Sam Ath.

The report also claimed that restrictions on freedom of assembly have increased following the passage of the Law on Peaceful Demonstrations in December 2009.

But Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said that police always follow legal procedures when cracking down on “illegal
activities”.

Prum Sithra, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, said yesterday that police did not make unnecessary arrests. “We have to look deeply at each situation to determine why police have used violence on people,” he said.

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