Wednesday, July 16, 2014 2:04 pm
by Suy SE
PHNOM PENH – Six Cambodian opposition politicians were charged Wednesday with insurrection, punishable by up to 30 years in prison, as their party warned of an attempt to “destroy democracy”.
The activists, who include five MPs-elect, were arrested after clashes Tuesday at a demonstration against the closure of Phnom Penh’s main designated protest site.
They were charged with leading an insurrection movement, masterminding intentional violence and inciting criminal acts, lawyer Ket Khy told reporters.
The insurrection charge alone carries a prison sentence of between 20 and 30 years.
“This is a setback for democracy in Cambodia,” Am Sam Ath of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights told AFP.
He said all six were placed in pre-trial detention.
They include prominent MP-elect Mu Sochua of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), who has protested repeatedly in recent months against the closure of the capital’s “Freedom Park”.
The park was launched in 2010 as a designated area for people to air their grievances, but it has been sealed off with razor wire barricades since May.
In a message posted on her Facebook page, Mu Sochua urged supporters to continue “our fight for freedom, human rights and liberties”.
Strongman premier Hun Sen faces mounting criticism by rights groups over the suppression of street protests intended to challenge his nearly three-decade rule following a contested election last year.
The 61-year-old, who has vowed to stay in power until he is 74, has been accused by the opposition of vote-rigging.
– ‘Fight for freedom’ –
The politicians, who have boycotted parliament since a disputed general election last year, were brought to the heavily barricaded Phnom Penh Municipal Court in handcuffs, according to witnesses.
Several hundred opposition supporters gathered at nearby police barriers to demand their release.
The opposition accused Hun Sen’s ruling party of orchestrating the violence that led to their arrest.
“It’s a threat against the CNRP. The move (by the court) destroys democracy in Cambodia,” spokesman Yim Sovann told AFP.
A second lawyer for the opposition, Sam Sokong, said the court was also investigating several other opposition politicians, including two MPs-elect.
The government accused the opposition politicians of staging an illegal demonstration using “cruel violent acts” that left 38 security guards injured.
“The violence went beyond the implementation of freedom of expression,” it said in a statement.
The protesters “committed premeditated serious criminal acts by using sticks, stones and other tools as weapons with the intention to kill local security guards”, it added.
Around 300 opposition supporters joined the protest on Tuesday outside Freedom Park, which has been closed since a bloody crackdown on striking garment workers in January that left four dead.
Rights activists said some opposition supporters were also wounded during the protest, in which police fired tear gas to stop the guards and protesters fighting with sticks and stones.
There have been several rallies outside Freedom Park in recent months. Rights groups have accused security guards, employed by local authorities, of beating protesters.
Activists say Cambodia’s courts suffer from political interference by the governing elite.
The latest charges “illustrate again that the judiciary is once again used as a political tool to restrict freedom of expression and opposition voices by the government of Cambodia”, said Chor Chanthyda of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
Earlier on Wednesday, in a press release published its FaceBook page, the CCHR called for the immediate and unconditional release of the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party. (“CNRP”) leaders currently detained in pre-trial detention and for an end to violence.
It said: “Today, nine leaders of the CNRP were charged with Article 459 (Leading insurrectional movement), Article 495 (Incitement to commit a felony), and Articles 28 and 218 (Instigation to commit acts of violence) of the Cambodian Criminal Code. The charges were brought against Mu Sochua, Ho Vann, Men Sothavrin, Keo Phirum, Real Khemrin, Oeu Narith, Khin Roeun, Nut Rumduol, and Long Ry.
“The first six of them have already been arrested and are currently in pre-trial detention. Additional charges have also been filed against two “unidentified” individuals.
“The speed with which charges were brought and the fact that all the people arrested are high-
ranking CNRP leaders who were not directly responsible for acts of violence only reinforces CCHR’s belief that the charges brought against the CNRP leaders are politically-motivated.
“The charges, arrest and detention of leading members of the CNRP over the past two days, follows the violence that broke out during a CNRP demonstration yesterday, 15 July 2014, in the vicinity of Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park.
“Since the Royal Government of Cambodia’s (“RGC”) ban on assembly, following garment workers strikes in January 2014, protests have repeatedly been marred by acts of violence.
“CCHR calls on all parties to restrain from any acts of violence and on the RGC to immediately fully restore the right to freedom of assembly including in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, and from using private, untrained security guards to police demonstrations. ”
The press statement quoting CCHR Senior Researcher Chor Chanthyda said: “The government must conduct prompt and independent investigations into the acts of violence that occurred during yesterday’s protests.
“In addition, authorities should instead ensure that full and independent investigations are undertaken into all past instances of violence during demonstrations, including those where security forces have repeatedly used excessive force against protestors and who have yet to be investigated.
“Today’s charges illustrate again that the judiciary is once again used as a political tool to restrict freedom of expression and opposition voices by the government.”