Between 28 April 2016 and 29 June 2017, five Cambodian human rights defenders – four senior staff members from NGO the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Mr. Ny Sokha, Mr. Yi Soksan, Mr. Nay Vanda and Ms. Lim Mony, and deputy secretary-general of the National Election Committee (and former ADHOC staff member) Mr. Ny Chakrya – have been detained with regard to advice and legitimate reimbursement of food and transport costs provided to the woman alleged to have had an extra-marital relationship with then deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha.
On 2 May 2016, the four ADHOC staff were indicted with bribing a witness, and Ny Chakrya was indicted as an accomplice to the same crime. United Nations (UN) staffer Mr. Soen Sally was also indicted as an accomplice; however, he remained free due to his immunity as a UN official. That same day, Ny Chakrya was transferred to Police Judiciaire and the four ADHOC staff were transferred to Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison. The charges bear all the hallmarks of being politically motivated, amounting to legal harassment.
In November 2016, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (“UNWGAD”) concluded that their detention was “arbitrary” and in violation of international human rights law, that they have been discriminated against based on their status as human rights defenders, and called for their immediate release. On 26 April 2017 the courage of the five and their commitment to their work to promote and protect human rights was acknowledged internationally through their nomination as one of three finalists to receive the prestigious Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.
After having spent 427 days in arbitrary pre-trial detention, they were released on bail on 29 June 2017. During the bail period, they have been unable to leave Cambodia or change their address, and remained under the Court’s supervision.
In early August 2018, Nay Vanda, Ny Chakrya and Yi Soksan received summons to appear at Phnom Penh Municipal Court on 27 August 2018 and stand trial on charges of Bribery of a Witness (an offense under article 548 of the Cambodian Criminal Code) and accomplice to bribing a witness (under article 29 and 548 of the Cambodian Criminal Code). However, the hearing was subsequently delayed at the request of the defense lawyer, who argued that the absence of key witnesses and the fact that two defendants had not received a warrant to attend the hearing impermissibly disadvantaged the defense.
On 18 September 2018, the hearing took place. Five witnesses were absent, preventing cross-examination by the defense, and only two witness statements were read aloud. The key witness, Khom Chandaraty, and her lawyer, were absent; the court claimed that she had changed her address and that her lawyer was sick.
On 26 September 2018, the five were found guilty of Bribery of a Witness and sentenced to five years imprisonment. With their pre-trial detention period counting as time-served and the remainder of their sentences suspended, the five walked free. Following the verdict, civil society organizations raised their concerns about the convictions, calling for the charges to be dropped.
Meanwhile, in a separate case, Ny Chakrya was charged with Defamation, Malicious Denunciation and Publication of Commentaries Intended to Unlawfully Coerce Judicial Authorities (offenses under articles 305, 311 and 522 of the Cambodian Criminal Code), in relation to statements made in his previous role at ADHOC, regarding the arrest of two villagers involved in a land dispute in Siem Reap. The case was heard by the Supreme Court on 26 September 2018.
On 1 October 2018, the Supreme Court referred Chakrya’s case back to the Court of Appeal, explaining that a re-trial was necessary due to insufficient evidence. Ny Chakrya was sentenced to six months in prison and a six million riel fine (approximately USD 1,500) by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on 22 September 2016.
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