The Anti-Corruption Unit yesterday summonsed seven members of civil society and one former NGO employee-turned-National Election Committee official in relation to a complaint by CNRP leader Kem Sokha’s purported mistress Khom Chandaraty, who has accused the group, including a UN staffer, of telling her to lie to police.
The individuals, including five members of rights group Adhoc; Sally Soen, an employee with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; former senior Adhoc official Ny Chakrya, now deputy secretary-general for the NEC; and women’s rights campaigner Thida Kus, must submit for questioning later this week, ACU President Om Yentieng stated yesterday.
“If they do not come, my second method has no invitations, but arrests,” Yentieng said at a press conference.
The summonses – signed by ACU legal officer Nuon Sothymun – are the latest escalation in a scandal that many have suggested has been fed and manipulated for the benefit of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
The UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, yesterday warned that the events of the last week “illustrated the kind of tipping point to which I alluded earlier” – a reference to remarks made last year during a “crackdown” on the opposition party.
What began after a series of recordings purportedly featuring Kem Sokha speaking intimately with at least three women leaked online in March, has since mutated into a raft of investigations and legal actions led by anti-terror police and the ACU.
Both agencies have claimed solid legal grounds for their actions, which have thus far included no exploration of possible wire-tapping, though a Cambodian legal expert, observers and the opposition party thoroughly disagree.
Yesterday’s summonses – delivered by courier, according to one of those targeted – were precipitated by a complaint by Khom Chandaraty, a hairdresser at a barbershop frequented by Sokha, who was named by police as one of his mistresses and on whose Facebook page some of the recordings were posted.
For more than a month, Chandaraty, also known by the nickname Srey Mom, maintained she was not the female voice heard in many of the tapes.
At her request, Adhoc provided the 24-year-old with a lawyer after she was ensnared in an investigation by anti-terror police tied to a defamation claim lodged by social media personality Thy Sovantha, who is mentioned negatively in the tapes.
Last week – after facing accusations of prostitution and providing false testimony, levelled by the anti-terror officers – Chandaraty dropped her denial.
She then proceeded to sue Sokha for $300,000 for not giving her a house and cash, as promised in the tapes, and accused Adhoc and other civil society members of instructing her to lie to investigators about her involvement with the opposition leader.
According to the summons documents, those summonsed must hear the accusatons regarding “advising Khom Chandaraty, also called Srey Mom, to give answers to the authorities”.
Wan-Hea Lee, OHCHR’s representative in Cambodia, confirmed one of her office had received a summons and said an official UN response would soon follow. She added that the “contacts that have taken place with Ms ‘Srey Mom’ have been entirely appropriate and consistent with UN work for the protection of human rights”.
Thida Kus, executive director of women’s rights group Silaka, said her summons cited article 111 of the criminal code – which, it appears, pertains to suspended sentences deemed not to have been served – and articles 25 and 26 of the anti-corruption law, which empower the ACU to conduct investigations, arrests and detain suspects.
“I’m a little confused and shocked at the same time,” Kus said, adding that she would meet with her lawyer today.
Adhoc yesterday declined to comment prior to a press conference scheduled to take place this morning. Its staff named in the documents include lawyer Try Chhoun, who represented Chandaraty, and senior staffers Lem Mony, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan and Nay Vanda.
Former Adhoc employee Ny Chakrya confirmed he received a letter but declined to comment except to say he “will go” to the hearing.
Speaking yesterday, lawyer Sok Sam Oeun, former head of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said he was at a loss to explain the ACU’s legal justification for hauling in those summonsed, unless they possessed yet-unpublicised evidence of wrongdoing.
“[Srey Mom] is not a minor…she is responsible for herself when she goes to the court,” Sam Oeun said.
Sayeed Ahmad, Asia protection coordinator for Front Line Defenders, which supports human rights workers, said the summonses were another example of the government attempting to hinder civil society.
“The Cambodian authorities are known for their use of judicial harassment, intimidation, threats, arbitrary detention, and violence against human rights defenders in order to restrict their fundamental freedoms and to silence any dissent in Cambodia,” Ahmad said.
Meanwhile, the ACU yesterday continued to detain Sam Rainsy Party commune chief Seang Chet, accused of paying $500 to Chandaraty’s mother, who lives in his commune in Kampong Cham, on behalf of Sokha.
ACU president Yentieng explained he initially only sought to question Chet over the payment, which is mentioned in Chandaraty’s complaint, but decided to detain him on Sunday after an extended interview, which suggested “criminal elements” to the transaction.
Yentieng sought to paint the local official – who he said came willingly to the unit’s headquarters – as the victim of decisions made by his opposition superiors.
Further, he said Chet shared this view and was “angry” at his bosses, who “had immunity”.
Sam Rainsy Party Senator Teav Vannol yesterday slammed the ACU’s “unconstitutional” actions.
“All these charges are not crimes, they are politically motivated,” Vannol said.
Via email yesterday, Markus Karbaum, an independent consultant specialising in Cambodian politics, suggested that, as elections approach, Cambodian authorities were creating a “red herring” out of the scandal to distract from deeper social problems and “reform bottle necks”.
“We citizens are not concerned with these issues then nobody questions the government record,” Karbaum said, pointing to problems with corruption, poor education and health services, a declining agricultural sector and insufficient foreign investment.
“This is what the country really needs, instead of washing such dirty laundry.”