Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rights workers, two others ‘bribed witness’, court says; UN holds firm

Rights workers, two others ‘bribed witness’, court says; UN holds firm

People protest the detention of human rights workers yesterday in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
People protest the detention of human rights workers yesterday in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Hong Menea

Rights workers, two others ‘bribed witness’, court says; UN holds firm

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday sent four Adhoc staffers to Prey Sar prison and an election official to Phnom Penh’s PJ correctional facility after charging them with bribing a witness in the scandal surrounding CNRP acting president Kem Sokha and an alleged mistress.

The four Adhoc staffers – Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Nay Vanda and Lem Mony – were charged by investigating judge Theam Chanpiseth for bribing a witness under Article 548 of the Criminal Code. Ny Chakrya, a former Adhoc official and National Election Committee deputy secretary-general, and Sally Soen, an employee with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), were charged as accomplices under articles 29 and 548.

Soen, who the UN says is protected by immunity, has yet to appear in court and was charged in absentia. Chanpiseth did not confirm if there were plans to arrest him.

“I cannot confirm it because we are continuing the procedures,” the judge said.

A visibly choked up Kea Sophal, one of the five lawyers representing Adhoc staffers, would only confirm that her clients had been sent to prison, but Sam Sokong, defence lawyer for Chakrya, slammed the charges against his client as unjustifiable.

“The charge is baseless, and I would request the court to drop the charge against my client,” Sokong said, adding that he would file for bail later this week. “I cannot accept the charge.”

The five were detained by the Anti-Corruption Unit on Thursday after two days of questioning at the watchdog’s offices.

Two additional days of interrogation followed at court. Their charges stem from allegations made by Sokha’s alleged mistress and salon worker Khom Chandaraty, who claims they asked her to lie about her relationship with Sokha.

Ny Sokha (centre), head of monitoring for Adhoc, is driven out of Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday afternoon after being charged for bribing a witness.
Ny Sokha (centre), head of monitoring for Adhoc, is driven out of Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday afternoon after being charged for bribing a witness. Pha Lina

While Adhoc staffers provided Chandaraty with legal and financial assistance when she came to the rights group for help last month, the exact nature of Chakrya’s and Soen’s involvement remains unclear.

Chiming in on the case’s proceedings, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday said that UN officials would not be afforded immunity if found guilty of committing a crime.

But Wan-Hea Lee, OHCHR’s representative in Cambodia, said their stance was based on a straightforward interpretation of the Convention on Privileges and Immunities of the UN, which accords UN staffers immunity arising from actions taken during the course of their work.

“The UN has sent a formal response to this effect to the royal government, and we await a response,” she said.

With regards to yesterday’s court proceedings, Lee said the case was an “important test of judicial integrity and independence”, adding that the principle of presumption of innocence was under question, given the way the case had been handled so far.

“My office will be following these cases closely and hopes to see proceedings fully respect fair trial rights standards,” Lee added.

Referring to threats made by both ACU boss Om Yentieng and Prime Minister Hun Sen to arrest UN staffers despite their immunity, Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said the threat shows the government’s willfully lawless approach to the entire case.

“If Cambodia arrests him despite that immunity, it will cause a full-blown crisis in relations between Cambodia and the UN that will likely not end well for Phnom Penh’s already-diminished standing in the international community,” he said.

Immediately following the detention of the five, a joint statement, released by more than 50 rights groups and NGOs, condemned the charges and demanded the release of the five on bail, as well as an “end to executive interference in the judiciary”.

“The case is a farcical use of both the criminal justice system and state institutions as tools to intimidate, criminalise and punish the legitimate activities of human rights defenders and civil society,” the statement reads.

Naly Pilorge, director at rights group Licadho, called the charges “blatantly politically motivated” and showed that the “government’s ultimate aim is total control ahead of the upcoming elections”.

MOST VIEWED

  • Ministry requests school opening

    The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport on Thursday said it would request a decision from Prime Minister Hun Sen to allow a small number of schools to reopen next month. Ministry spokesman Ros Soveacha said if the request is granted, higher-standard schools will reopen

  • Kingdom eyes India FTA, China deal set for August

    Cambodia is studying the possibility of establishing a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with India to open a new market with the second-largest regional economy. This comes as an FTA with China is scheduled to be signed next month while similar negotiations with South Korea

  • Judge lands in court after crashing into alleged thief

    Sen Sok district police on Thursday sent a Koh Kong Provincial Court judge to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on manslaughter charges after he crashed his car into a woman riding a motorbike on Wednesday, killing her. District police chief Hour Meng Vang told The

  • Gov’t to boost Siem Reap tourism

    The Ministry of Tourism released the results of an inter-ministerial committee meeting concerning Siem Reap province’s Tourism Development Master Plan for 2020-2035 on Wednesday, revealing the government’s plan to improve the overall tourist landscape there. The meeting was attended by Minister of Tourism

  • Residents ordered to remove structures on Phnom Penh’s canal

    Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng has ordered authorities to act against the perpetrators who built houses along the Luo 5 canal in Meanchey district. The municipal administration plans to create a committee to solve the matter. The order was given on Wednesday while Sreng led

  • ‘On the offensive’: Cambodia to load up on loans to stimulate economy

    As the dust settles on the economy, Cambodia comes to grips with what needs to be done to turn the economy around, starting with a big shopping list for credit ‘We are going on the offensive,” Vongsey Vissoth, Ministry of Economy and Finance permanent secretary

  • Government set to make up for cancelled April holiday

    The government is set to make up for a five-day Khmer New Year holiday late this month or early next month. The holiday was earlier cancelled due to the onset of Covid-19. The announcement is expected on Friday as the government is studying a range

  • Families told to register for cash handouts

    The government has called on poor families to apply to commune authorities for evaluation to receive financial support during the Covid-19 crisis. A $300 million budget has been planned for implementation within a year. Ministry of Economy and Finance secretary of state Vongsey Visoth said this

  • Crumbling prices, rent ruffle condo segment

    The prolonged decline in international arrivals to Cambodia intensified by renewed Covid-19 fears has driven down condominium sales prices and rental rates in Phnom Penh, a research report said. CBRE Cambodia, the local affiliate of US commercial real estate services and investment firm CBRE Group

  • Over $3M in traffic fines collected in two months

    Traffic police officers collected over $3 million in fines throughout the Kingdom during the past two months when officers strictly enforced the law in accordance with a May sub-decree, officials said. As incentives, law enforcement officers received between 200,000 and two million riel ($50 to $500) each. The figures