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Groups call for charges against activists to be dropped

Moeun Tola speaks to reporters outside the Phnom penh Municipal Court after being questioned in November.
Moeun Tola speaks to reporters outside the Phnom penh Municipal Court after being questioned in November. Heng Chivoan

Groups call for charges against activists to be dropped

A group of 35 international labour and human rights advocacy groups yesterday called for charges against a trio of Cambodian civil society activists to be dropped.

“We, the undersigned global unions and international human rights and workers’ rights organizations, call for the charges against Cambodian human rights defender Moeun Tola to be immediately dropped,” reads the statement, signed by groups including Human Rights Watch and the Clean Clothes Campaign.

While the groups focus mostly on Tola, a prominent labour rights activist, they also urged the dismissal of charges for his ostensible “co-defendants”, activist monk But Buntenh and media advocate Pa Nguon Teang.

The trio was accused of misappropriating funds meant for the funeral of slain political activist Kem Ley. They were ordered sent to pre-trial detention, but have not returned to Cambodia from abroad to face the charges.

Rights groups and observers have criticised the charges as politically motivated, and Ley’s family has repeatedly maintained the innocence of the accused. The complaint was filed by Cambodia Youth Party head Pich Sros, who has no relationship to the Ley family, but has filed numerous lawsuits seemingly benefiting the ruling party, including an initial complaint against the Cambodia National Rescue Party, after which the party was dissolved.

“It is well known that Cambodia’s courts are not independent, but rather are driven by the political interests of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. These charges constitute an attempt to silence and punish one of the country’s leading independent voices for worker rights,” the statement says.

“This case is emblematic of broader deterioration in the labor rights and human rights climate in Cambodia,” the statement continued.

Justice Ministry spokesman Chhin Malin brushed off the appeals on the trio’s behalf, calling the statement “politically motivated” and saying no institutions can interfere with Cambodia’s internal court affairs.

“Their concern and their political message will not influence the court’s procedure,” he said.

Malin continued that civil society organisations are welcome to assist on “technical” matters, such as providing Tola with a legal team, and accused the organisations of supporting “that political party”, a likely reference to the dissolved CNRP.

“Don’t think about your country’s laws, just look at our Criminal Code and criminal procedure,” he said.

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