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A justice system ‘rotten to the core’

24 Jul

By Stuart White, The Pnhom Penh Post, 24 July 2014

Supporters greet CNRP lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua after her release from Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh on Tuesday

Supporters greet CNRP lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua after her release from Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. Vireak Mai

Analysis

When seven Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers-elect and a party activist were released on bail from Prey Sar prison on Tuesday, it was to the cheers of supporters and the general approval of civil society.

But even as observers yesterday welcomed the detainees’ release – which came hot on the heels of a political deal between the CNRP and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party – some were quick to note that the entire episode was yet another example of Cambodian courts’ susceptibility to political influence.

According to Duch Piseth, head of the trial monitoring project at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, the court betrayed its lack of independence both coming and going.

“The arrest of the CNRP members was not [justified], because they did nothing wrong. . . . If we look at the law on demonstrations, the authorities must arrest those who commit violence directly, not those who lead the protest,” Piseth said, maintaining that the charges against the politicians were strictly meant to up the pressure on opposition negotiators.

“And just a few hours after the meeting between the supreme leaders of both parties, those CNRP members who had been arrested were released on bail,” he added. “So this is a clear example that the judiciary in Cambodia is not independent.”

In fact, Mu Sochua, one of the CNRP’s newly released lawmakers, agreed, saying that her experience had showed her “how rotten to the core” the court system is. While she “should not have spent one second in jail”, she continued, her improbably timely release was just as suspect.

“How can we be in and out in seven days? These were serious charges, and at the minute of the arrests they were not legal,” she said. “When the talks happened, within three hours, we were out. What kind of a system is this? It has to be free, fair and independent for all, not just for exceptional cases.”

According to Piseth, though the charges against the eight still technically stand, they were likely to be dropped the minute that the released lawmakers become covered by parliamentary immunity.

However, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Surya Subedi expressed his own concerns that the charges could be dangled over lawmakers’ heads and revived whenever politically expedient, as well as that “[i]nstead of being a check, the judiciary appears to be acting as a tool of the executive”.

While it may have raised some eyebrows that the CNRP – a party that has long advocated judicial independence – was the seeming beneficiary of political influence on the courts this time, party president Sam Rainsy said yesterday that he had not specifically sought his party members’ release in negotiations with Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“We all know that the judiciary in this country is not independent, but in our negotiations, even though we had in mind our colleagues who were detained, we still pushed for our demands – our basic demands – to be met,” he said, allowing that the CPP may have inferred that their release was an implicit part of the agreement.

However, Ministry of Justice Secretary of State and CPP working group member Keut Rith yesterday maintained that the lawmakers’ release had nothing to do with undue pressure from the executive.

“The [lawmakers’] defence teams, as I understand, had requested bail for their client on July 21, and the court’s decision was made following the request and based on the procedure of the law,” he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA, DAVID BOYLE AND KEVIN PONNIAH

Home searched in KDC row

24 Jul

By Khouth Sophak Chakrya, The Pnhom Penh Post, 24 July 2014

Employees of KDC International fire projectiles towards local villagers in Kampong Chhnang province

Employees of KDC International fire projectiles towards local villagers in Kampong Chhnang province’s Kampong Tralach district during an ongoing land dispute earlier this month. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Police searched the home of villagers protesting against the KDC International company in Kampong Chhnang province yesterday, confiscating a number of items, including a crossbow, an axe and gasoline bottles, officials and villagers said.

A years-long land dispute between villagers in Kampong Tralach district’s Lor Peang village and KDC – owned by Chea Kheng, the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem – has escalated in recent weeks, leading to clashes and arrests.

Seng Mengsrun, provincial deputy prosecutor, said he led a team of 10 police into the home of village representatives Smuon Nhearn and Om Sophy.

Mengsrun said authorities found and confiscated a number of items during the search, which followed the arrest of two villagers on Monday.

“The search is part of an investigation. I cannot tell you any more information,” Mengsrun said.

Since the dispute turned violent early this month, villagers say their homes have been surrounded by police seeking to intimidate and arrest them.

Nheurn, 34, said he cooperated with police when they searched his house.

“Police asked me what the gasoline bottle was for – and I told them that it was for burning police who invade my home without permission,” he said. “They said the crossbow is an illegal weapon . . . but I used it to kill rats, snakes and fish, and have it also to protect my family at nighttime.”

Police did not try to arrest him, despite the deputy prosecutor saying his name was on a list of villagers with complaints against them for destroying KDC property, Nheurn said.

The dispute began in 2007 when KDC bulldozed 145 hectares of farmland without compensating residents.

On Monday, police arrested village representatives Seang Heng and Marng Yag, who were charged with intentional violence and property destruction.

“The rest of us are blocked in the village. We cannot go outside and earn a living,” said Khat Saruon, Heng’s wife.

KDC officials could not be reached for comment.

On the march: Days-long strike shifts to district HQ

24 Jul

By Mom Kunthear, The Pnhom Penh Post, 24 July 2014

After striking for more than a week, employees at Phnom Penh’s Sun Well Shoes yesterday marched to Por Sen Chey district hall, demanding their voices be heard.

“We protested in front of the factory for nearly 10 days, but the factory officials did not come to negotiate,” Seang Sambath, president of the Workers Friendship Union Federation (WFUF), said yesterday. “So they marched to the district hall.”

Some 300 people marched from their Veng Sreng Boulevard factory with a list of seven demands, including the firing of a manager and $15 per month for accommodation and transportation.

Deputy district governor Khem Soda told union and worker representatives that he had written a letter to Sun Well’s owner, inviting him to a negotiation meeting today. “I sent a letter to the factory calling for negotiation with workers on the points they demand,” Soda said.

Factory officials could not be reached.

Ministry vows to take some ELC land back

24 Jul

By Phak Seangly, The Pnhom Penh Post, 24 July 2014

Allegedly illegally felled timber sits in an ELC owned by Try Pheap last year

Allegedly illegally felled timber sits in an ELC owned by Try Pheap last year. The Ministry of Environment is implementing a new mechanism to monitor timber processing in ELCs. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Amid promises reiterated by the government yesterday that it will take a tougher stance on economic land concessions, logging tycoon Try Pheap minimally reduced his sweeping natural resource empire, returning more than 20,000 hectares of undeveloped forestry.

It was unclear what kind of arrangement prompted Pheap to give back land inside Ratanakkiri’s Virachey National Park, as Environment Minister Say Sam Al provided no reasoning for the announcement and Pheap could not be reached for comment.

Sam Al did say that concessionaires who do not use their land will see their property repossessed.

“We will urge [ELC] companies to follow their master plan, and if they do not conscientiously do so, or have enough money to complete their intentions, we will seize the land back,” Sam Al said.

Nearly a third of the Virachey National Park’s territory has been granted as ELCs, with a small handful of different companies, including the Try Pheap Company, owning over 100,000 hectares of the park, according to Chhay Thy, Ratanakkiri provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc.

Thy added that the Try Pheap Company did not develop its portion of the granted land.

In addition to announcing Pheap’s returned property yesterday, Sam Al also said that in order to further protect biodiversity and forest coverage, the government will soon levy a tax on concessionaires wishing to clear forested areas.

However, he was not forthcoming on precise details, including how much would be charged or how such a mechanism could be enforced.

He did stress that any collected timber would need to be reported and that furniture makers will have to specify their wood suppliers.

“The timber-processing places need to be rechecked,” he said. “We must know the sources of the timber and where they come from.”

In Ratanakkiri, the government has granted concessions to a total of 30 international and national companies, supplying them with a total of nearly 136,000 hectares of land.

General Allegedly Shoots Employee in Pay Dispute

24 Jul

By Saing Soenthrith, The Cambodia Daily, 24 July 2014

English3

Officials Raid Home in KDC Villager’s Dispute

24 Jul

By Kuch Naren, The Cambodia Daily, 24 July 2014

English2

Hun Sen’s Cabinet Accepts Petition Of Villager

24 Jul

By Aun Pheap, The Cambodia Daily, 24 July 2014

English1

Krom protests end for now

23 Jul

By Khouth Sophak Chakrya and Pech Sotheary, The Pnhom Penh Post, 23 July 2014

Buddhist monks protest at a blockade near the Vietnamese Embassy

Buddhist monks protest at a blockade near the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh yesterday. Eli Meixler

Two days of roadblocks in front of the Vietnamese Embassy by Kampuchea Krom activists ended yesterday after intervention from the Phnom Penh municipality.

Protesters led by the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community and the Federation of Cambodian Intellectuals and Students had been demanding an official apology from the embassy after a spokesman there said that Kampuchea Krom – a portion of southern Vietnam home to many ethnic Khmer – had belonged to Vietnam “for a very long time”.

While embassy officials never received the demonstrators’ petition calling for the apology, Phnom Penh municipal authorities did, promising to pass it on to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which would, in turn, pass it to the Vietnamese government, representatives of the activists and the municipality said.

After two hours of negotiations with leaders from the two organisations, municipality spokesman Long Dimanche accepted the petition from demonstrators in front of the Vietnamese Embassy, before saying: “Please, all of you, stop protesting.”

Mao Pises, head of the Federation of Cambodian Intellectuals and Students, said that authorities had two weeks to secure a response.

“The reply is a public apology in written form to Cambodian people for what their senior official has stated, [which] fakes the history. If there is not a reply, a new big protest will be set up again,” Pises said.

Part of the controversy over the Vietnamese official’s remarks stemmed from the assertion that Kampuchea Krom had been part of Vietnam long before it was officially declared as such by Indochina’s colonial ruler, France, in 1949.

As such, Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community leader Thach Setha yesterday also demanded the French “confirm clearly about giving Kampuchea Krom territory to Vietnam in order to avoid Vietnam faking history again”.

Despite the municipality’s offer, many outside the embassy were still unsatisfied. One small group – later disavowed by organisers – burned a Vietnamese flag and photos of Vietnamese communist icon Ho Chi Minh.

Embassy spokesman Trung Van Thong, who made the comments at the heart of the furore, has said he is “not interested” in the calls for an apology.

Release quickly follows deal

23 Jul

By Joe Freeman, The Pnhom Penh Post, 23 July 2014

Supporters greet Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker-elect Long Ry after his release on bail

Supporters greet Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker-elect Long Ry after his release on bail from Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison yesterday. Vireak Mai

A jubilant crowd of opposition supporters burst into cheers yesterday afternoon as seven Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers-elect and one party activist were released on bail just hours after an announced rapprochement between the CNRP and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

They walked free through exits separated by gender at Prey Sar prison on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. Male lawmakers-elect Ho Vann, Real Camerin, Men Sothavarin, Keo Phirom, Long Ry and Nuth Romduol, along with activist Oeun Narith, emerged first to hugs, tears and flower garlands placed around their necks.

A heavy downpour threatened to sour the mood, but it had tapered off by the time the detainees were released.

“We did not do anything wrong,” said Ry, a lawmaker-elect for Banteay Meanchey province, who had grown a thin beard in his short prison stint.

Moments later, senior opposition leader Mu Sochua appeared through a separate exit. She thanked her supporters as well as the prisoners she met while inside. Sochua climbed into a car and gave another short speech through the sunroof.

“I’m proud. I’m proud to be a Cambodian woman and you can see that the support and desire of the Cambodian people is nothing but reconciliation and justice,” Sochua said, adding “democracy, true democracy”, before the car spirited her away.

http://youtu.be/46l5VvxUcjY

The CNRP members were arrested and hit with a range of charges, including insurrection, in the days following clashes on July 15 between opposition demonstrators and district security guards loyal to the CPP at Freedom Park in Phnom Penh, leaving several guards and activists injured.

Though free on bail, the eight still face an eventual court hearing, municipal court judge Keo Mony told the Post yesterday.

“I have allowed eight of them to stay outside their detention, temporarily,” he said.

Ou Virak, chairman of the Cambodia Center for Human Rights, lamented the way the courts were caught up in the crisis. “It’s clear that the ruling party can do whatever they want with the court – arrest people, use them as a bargaining chip and release them at will.”

The government has consistently denied that the arrests were a political tactic, but they clearly sped up the faltering negotiations.

Days after the court charged the officials, opposition leader Sam Rainsy cut short a trip to Europe, returning home on Saturday. He called for a resolution to the deadlock that set in after disputed elections nearly a year ago. That resolution came yesterday, finally, following a meeting of just a few hours at the Senate.

On his Facebook page yesterday, Rainsy said the release of the detainees was one of the main points reached in the “comprehensive” political agreement, though it was not mentioned in the official statement.

Standing outside the prison, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said he did not know where the detainees were headed after their ordeal. CNRP lawmaker-elect Long Botta said earlier in the afternoon that they would all go to party headquarters.

 

Market fire razes some 250 stalls

23 Jul

By Mom Kunthear, The Pnhom Penh Post, 23 July 2014

Nearly 250 stalls in a private market were destroyed in a suspected electrical fire in Battambang province’s Phnom Prek district on Monday night, police said yesterday.

District police chief Song Sopheak said 244 stalls were burned down after an electrical fire in a centrally located stall spread to others. According to Sopheak, no one was injured in the blaze because the fire began at night.

“It happened at 11:30pm on Monday night, and people living near the market tried to put the fire out, but they could not help,” he said.

“We used 18 fire engines from the provincial police station and many fire engines from Thailand, because it was close to the Thai border, so they helped to put out the fire,” he continued.

Sopheak said he did not know the exact cost of the damage.

Authorities and Red Cross officials have distributed “some aid” to affected vendors, and police don’t believe the fire to have been an act of arson, he said.

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