US expresses concern for detained Cambodian rights workers


PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The United States has joined the European Union and U.N. human rights agencies in expressing concern over the extended pre-trial detention of five Cambodian human rights held for more than a year.

The five current or former staff members of the group ADHOC — the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association — are being held for allegedly bribing a woman to change testimony that was damaging to then-deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha, who was accused of acting illegally in connection with an alleged extra-marital affair.

The related cases are generally seen as part of a campaign by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government to weaken its political opponents, especially ahead of nationwide local elections this June. Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodia People’s Party have hounded the opposition through the courts, which are considered to be under their political influence.

A Cambodian court late last month agreed to allow a six-month extension of the activists’ pre-trial detention.

“They have been subjected to a never-ending nightmare of deliberate delays and political manipulation of the judicial system designed to punish them, and intimidate civil society to stifle any criticism of the government as the country heads into commune, and then national, elections,” New York-based Human Rights Watch and FORUM-ASIA, a network of human rights organizations, said last month.

Cambodia’s veteran opposition leader Sam Rainsy, the head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, is facing prison time for defamation and other charges he alleges are groundless and politically motivated. He has stayed in exile and resigned his position, which is now held by Kem Sokha. Under a recently passed law, the party was threatened with dissolution unless Sam Rainsy resigned.

A statement released Friday by the U.S. State Department noted the delay in holding a trial and how it stressed the detainees’ families. It urged Cambodia to meet its obligations under international human rights statutes.

The EU issued a similar statement on Thursday calling for the rights of the detainees to be upheld.

Cambodia’s Foreign Ministry expressed dismay over the EU’s reference to the activists’ extended detention, which it described as “absolutely the domestic affair of Cambodia.”

It said that the statement violated the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.