Cambodia: Human Rights Defenders held in prolonged pre-trial detention (joint communication)

On 10 June 2021, I sent a letter to the Government of Cambodia on the pre-trial detention and denial of bail of seven human rights defenders. The letter was written jointly with four other UN experts.

In the communication we expressed our concern that Mr. Hun Vannak, Ms. Chhoeun Daravy, Mr. Tha Lavy, Ms. Eng Malai,Mr. Koet Saray, Mr. Muong Sopheak and Mr. Mean Prommony appear to have been arbitrarily detained and deprived of their liberty in response to their legitimate and peaceful work in the defence of human rights in Cambodia. We also expressed concern at the length during which the human rights defenders have been kept in pre-trial detention, which appeared to have been in breach of the Cambodian Penal Code. We raised further concern about the mental and physical health of the human rights defenders, and the impact this extended period of pre-trial detention on their well- being.

The allegations form part of a continuing pattern of information received from the country that indicates Cambodia is targeting, threatening, and criminalising human rights defenders in the country in an attempt to incite fear amongst those working to protect human rights.

Mr. Hun Vannak, Ms. Chhoeun Daravy, Mr. Tha Lavy, Ms. Eng Malai and Mr. Koet Saray are human rights defenders and members of the Khmer Thavrak youth group, a movement which advocates for and promotes the protection of human rights and social justice and raises awareness about environmental issues in Cambodia.

Mr. Muong Sopheak and Mr. Mean Prommony are members of the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association (KSILA), which focuses on the mobilisation of students to engage in issues related to social development, good government, and the sustainable use of natural resources.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication Read the Government's response

As stated in previous communications, all seven human rights defenders were reportedly arbitrarily arrested between August and September 2020, in connection with their planning and participation in protests calling for the release of imprisoned human rights defenders and Khmer Thavrak colleagues in the country. All seven human rights defenders were subsequently charged with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” under articles 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code and placed in pre- trial detention. If convicted, they could face between six months and two years imprisonment and a fine of 4,000,000 Riels (approximately 825 euros). The closing order (indictment) was issued on 6 November 2020. According to the Cambodian Criminal Procedure Code, they can remain in detention for an additional four months until the time they appear before the trial court.

While their trial started on 30 December 2020 and continued on 16 February 2021, the hearing scheduled for 2 March 2021 was postponed to 8 June 2021. This was further postponed to an undefined date as part of a general measure taken by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and the General Department of Prisons due to the deteriorating COVID-19 situation in the country, including in prisons. As a result, they remain in pre- trial detention almost 10 months later.

On 18 May 2021, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court denied the bail requests of the seven human rights defenders, citing the need to guarantee their presence in trial. During the court session, it was reported that the human rights defenders looked visibly weak and concern was raised about the impact the past 10 months in pre- trial detention is having on their mental health. It was also noted that Ms. Malai’s leg was visibly swollen. The next trial date has yet to be announced, and authorities are reportedly using the COVID-19 pandemic to delay the trial and extend the pre- trial detention of the seven human rights defenders.

Mr. Vannak, Mr. Saray, Mr. Sopheak, Mr. Lavy and Mr. Prommony are detained in Phnom Penh Correctional Centre (CC) in CC1 and Ms. Malai is detained in CC2. Ms. Daravy is currently detained in the Police Judiciaire prison in Phnom Penh. Their lawyers have not been permitted to visit them since February 2021, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions.

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