Phnom Penh, Cambodia – The Cambodian court will rule on Wednesday whether the well-known labor rights activist Rong Chun is guilty of “incitement” because the country’s critics continue to be suppressed.

This case seems to have originated from Rong Chun’s comments on the land rights of villagers along the Cambodia-Vietnamese border, and has received close attention from the local and international communities. If the activist in his early 50s is found guilty, he will face up to two years in prison.

“Rong Chun is one of Cambodia’s most tireless defenders of labor rights,” said Naly Pilorge, head of the Cambodian human rights organization LICADHO. “He continued to be imprisoned at the height of the global pandemic, putting his health in danger without any need. He should be released and all charges against him dropped.”

Rong Chun was arrested at home on July 31 last year and has been in prison ever since.

One month after his arrest, Rong Chhun, chairman of the Cambodian Federation of Trade Unions and member of the Cambodian Supervisory Committee civil society organization, was charged with “inciting felony or causing social unrest” based on social media posts regarding the demarcation of the border between Cambodia and Vietnam.

Since the fall of the Khmer Rouge more than 40 years ago, borders have always been a sensitive issue in Cambodia, and anti-Vietnam sentiment remains strong. The opposition tried to take advantage of anti-Vietnamese sentiment, accusing the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen of being too tolerant of Cambodia’s wealthy neighbor.

“If the court is independent, I believe it will drop the charges against my uncle. He did not cause confusion or instigate anyone,” said Rong Vichea, 28-year-old nephew of Rong Chhun, who was worried His uncle may be infected with the new coronavirus in prison.

“My uncle is not in good health. He looks very thin.”

In January, a truck carrying prisoners including Rong Chun arrived at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and the police stood guard [Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP]

Cambodia has long been cracking down on activists, human rights defenders and opposition groups. Rong Chun has been arrested and imprisoned many times during his career, and more and more activists, monks and rappers have been accused of “inciting.”

“The accusation against Rong Chun and the entire trial were politically motivated from the beginning, and the purpose was just one thing: to jail Cambodia’s most active trade union leader for criticizing the government and its policies,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Asia. Human Rights Watch.

“He shouldn’t have been arrested, and the charges against him should be dropped.”

Shrinking urban space

In a 2020 report by the UN Human Rights Office in Cambodia, the UN Secretary-General detailed “how the space for citizens and democracy in Cambodia is shrinking” and that the work of human rights and civil society organizations has been “improperly interfered, intimidated or harassed” “.

“We urge the authorities to stay vigilant and ensure that criminal laws are not used to restrict the legitimate activities of human rights defenders who are committed to promoting the protection of human rights,” said Liz Srossel, spokesperson for the UN Office of Human Rights in Geneva.

The United Nations stated that at least 24 human rights defenders (12 of whom are women) are currently in jail for exercising their rights or expressing concerns in person or online.Hundreds of opposition members were also Arrested Because the main opposition party was banned before the 2018 election.

In December of the same year, during the wage protests in late 2013 and early 2014, Rong Chun was one of six union leaders who was sentenced to two and a half years of probation after being convicted of inciting violence and obstructing traffic. .

They were also ordered to pay more than US$8,600 in compensation to the affected people.

However, the conviction was later revoked by the High Court, and union leaders said the move was due to the European Union’s threat to cancel Cambodia’s duty-free trade access. Everything except weapons arrange.

“The historical turbulence of the Cambodian government’s treatment of union leaders has always been a concern of various international and regional authorities, including the International Labour Organization, the European Commission, and certain United Nations special rapporteurs,” the American Bar Association in November 2020 Wrote in the report.

Rong Chun was arrested in 2020, charged with “incitement” and detained awaiting trial [File: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP]

The controversial trade union law and the Law on Associations and Non-Governmental Organizations (LANGO) passed in August 2015 increase the risk for protesters.

The report stated: “Labor organizers have become the target of criminal proceedings alone, and the slow criminal trial process itself has become a punishment.”

Union leaders also face violence or worse.

Chea Vichea, the former leader of the Workers’ Free Trade Union, who was supported by thousands of workers, was arrested Shot Near the Independence Monument in Phnom Penh in January 2004. He gained fame for his work to raise the minimum wage by organizing protests again and again. His murderer has not been found and brought to justice.

In 2020, the World Justice Project (WJP) ranked Cambodia’s rule of law index second-to-last out of 128 countries. In East Asia and the Pacific, the WJP ranks Cambodia as the 15th among 15 countries. The score is based on a variety of factors, including restrictions on government power, absence of corruption, basic rights, civil justice, and the country’s regulatory enforcement.

Nevertheless, although some people say that the case may be dropped, others worry that the government might want to use Rongchun as an example.

“Rong Chhun faces politically motivated charges in the Kangaroo Court controlled by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), so the verdict cannot be fair,” Robertson said.

“Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government are doing their best to intimidate community activists and critics. The persecution of Rong Chun is intended to show that even high-profile national labor leaders are not safe.”

‘stay strong’

Chin Malin, spokesman for the Ministry of Justice and the Cambodian Human Rights Commission (CHRC), said that the court’s investigation found evidence to support this accusation, and Rongchun’s supporters should pay less attention to criticizing the government and more attention to showing evidence. This undermines the allegations.

“If human rights organizations want to help him, they should provide legal aid, participate in court proceedings, and find conclusive evidence and conclusive testimony to prevent him from being charged.”

Rongchun has been a labor rights activist for more than 20 years [File: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP]

Chhun’s lawyer Choung Chou Ngy said his client was innocent.

“As the accusation said, my client was not guilty of incitement,” he said.

Rong Vichea met his uncle at the hearing last month for the last time. He said that union leaders should—not be locked up in prison—because of the work he has done since the establishment of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association to help improve The welfare of workers and teachers was praised by the association more than 20 years ago.

Despite being locked up in jail and not sure of his fate, Rong Chun is still not deterred.

“He asked about the well-being of his colleagues and colleagues, and told us to stay strong and continue to seek justice for our society,” Rong Weicha said.

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