Transparency International, the global anti-corruption organisation, calls on the authorities in Cambodia to respect the space for civil society and end harassment and intimidation of activists.
The current situation was trigged when activists from a well-known human rights organisation (ADHOC) and a Deputy Secretary General of the National Election Committee (NEC) were summoned for questioning and later detained by the Anti-Corruption Unit. They were then transferred to the court and charged for allegedly bribing a witness in a highly politicised case.
A Deputy Secretary General of the NEC and one officer from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights were also charged as accomplices in bribing the witness.
“TI is seriously concerned about increasing allegations of political interference and intimidation of human rights and anti-corruption activists. The Anti-Corruption Unit should not be used in such a way that intimidates and silences the voice of civil society activists. This sends the wrong message, not only to the people of Cambodia but to the rest of the world. Civil society needs to be protected so that it can support citizens,” said Elena Panfilova, Vice Chair of Transparency International.
If convicted the activists could face between 5 - 10 years prison sentences. A decision is expected this week.
On 28 April 27 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) signed a joint statement calling on the authorities to cease harassment of human rights defenders, and on 2 May 59 NGOs signed a joint statement condemning the charges against human right defenders.
This latest crackdown on civil society comes in the wake of the introduction of a restrictive NGO law - Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO) – that could impede the freedom of civil society in the country.
With local elections in Cambodia scheduled for next year and national elections in 2018, it is vital that civil society is allowed to act freely and without fear of reprisal. Cambodian authorities must take immediate action to end harassment and protect civil society space.
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