The ministries of Justice and Interior have brushed off concerns raised by UN special rapporteurs over the allegedly arbitrary arrest of activist Rong Chhun.
In an October 30 letter sent through the “Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the UN Office and other International Organisations at Geneva”, the ministries said Chhun’s arrest complied with Cambodian laws and that his statement concerning border demarcation with Vietnam sought to mislead the public and cause social chaos.
The letter was shared by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on November 4 and came following an October 17 communication letter from four UN special rapporteurs, including Rhona Smith, and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
In the joint letter, the UN human rights officials sought information from the government on the legal basis of Chhun’s arrest. They said they had received information that Chhun was arrested on the night of July 31 by around 30 men in plainclothes without an arrest warrant. The arrest, they added, came after Chhun had voiced concern over a report of land encroachment along the Cambodia-Vietnam border.
They said Chhun’s speech did not violate Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which states: “Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference”.
They also expressed concern that the arrest might not meet the standard of “in flagrante delicto”, which means Chhun was not caught in the act of committing a crime.
“Please provide information on the factual and legal basis for the arrest and detention of Rong Chhun, and how these are compatible with international human rights norms and standards related to the right to freedom of expression and right to take part in public affairs,” the joint letter said.
“Please provide further information on the compatibility of the arrest with the right to liberty and security of person, including being informed at the time of arrest for the reasons of his arrest.”
In response, the interior ministry said Chhun was arrested in the presence of a deputy prosecutor attached to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
The interior ministry said Chhun made a statement and a video describing his activities along the border with the intent of inciting social disorder and chaos and causing a serious upheaval affecting national security and public order.
The police are obliged to maintain social security and public order for the sake of national interest and peace, it said.
The justice ministry said Chhun’s arrest adhered to the Kingdom’s Criminal Code. Citing the justification of the court, it said Chhun had fabricated information about demarcation at the Cambodia-Vietnam border with a goal of misleading public opinion and instigating social disorder and upheaval affecting national security.
“The content of the materials that Rong Chhun had disseminated deceitfully seeks to confuse national and international opinions as well as to cause social chaos,” the justice ministry said.