While many Cambodians returned to their hometowns over the Pchum Ben weekend, not everybody was lucky enough to be able to celebrate the holidays at home with their families. The five human rights defenders – Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Nay Vanda, Lim Mony, and Ny Chakrya – remain inside Prey Sar prison or Police Judiciaire in Phnom Penh, separated from their family and friends. Saturday 8 October marked two months since the launch of the #Freethe5KH campaign, and as of today the five have been arbitrarily detained for 165 days as a result of their legitimate human rights work.
Despite their unjust imprisonment, and the challenge of being apart from their loved ones, the five human rights defenders are staying strong, and have been encouraged by the messages of support and solidarity they have received in prison. As they describe in a series of infographics released by #Freethe5KH, the postcards have helped remind the detainees that they are not alone or forgotten, and that people across Cambodia, the region, and around the world, are thinking about them and continuing to call for their release. So far, 469 messages have been sent to the five – either online or as postcards – and 195 have now been delivered to them in prison. As their unfair and unjustified detention continues with no end in sight, messages like these become even more important – if you want to send your own message you can do so from anywhere in the world, via www.freethe5kh.net/send-a-message-to-the-5 or also in Cambodia by filling in a postcard at the offices of one of our implementing partners.
Postcards have come from across the region and beyond, showing that the unjust detention of the five is attracting attention and support around the globe. Two weeks ago, on 22 September, observers and supporters from throughout the region descended on Phnom Penh to observe the trial of Ny Chakrya. He faced charges, including for defamation, linked to his previous work as a human rights defender at ADHOC. After deliberating for a mere 15 minutes the trial judge announced that he found Ny Chakrya guilty of all charges and sentenced him to six months in prison and a hefty fine of six million Riel. However, Ny Chakrya remains determined and is already planning to challenge his conviction. Hopefully the Court of Appeal will demonstrate its independence and overturn this unfair and unjustified verdict.
International support is vital to help build pressure to secure the release of the five and the dropping of the allegations against them, which have all the hallmarks of being politically motivated. The campaign also received a welcome boost on this front last month from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith. Ms. Smith, the UN expert with special responsibility for monitoring human rights in Cambodia, specifically highlighted the five during her annual speech to the UN Human Rights Council, telling the 47 states that “their alleged crimes still appear based on legitimate work undertaken as human rights defenders” and that the “charges should be proven or the individuals released immediately.” Ms. Smith, speaking less than a week after Ny Chakrya’s conviction, also expressed concern about his rights to adequate defence and presumption of innocence, given that he was in detention for the months preceding his trial.
This kind of international attention at the highest level, combined with the crucial support of all those who send messages of solidarity to the five and raise awareness of their detention by sharing their stories on social media, can help to create pressure to end the five’s continued imprisonment. Add your voice to those calling for their release by sending your own message of solidarity to the five detainees, either on a postcard, available at the offices of our implementing partners in Cambodia, or online at www.freethe5KH.net