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Five other protesters are being held while the authorities decide whether to charge them
PHNOM PENH— Chhoeun Daravy, one of the six people arrested on Aug. 13 as they were protesting in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, was brought to court on Aug. 14 and charged with inciting social unrest by an investigating judge.
Daravy and the other protesters who were asking for the release of Rong Chhun—a prominent trade unionist arrested earlier this month—remain in temporary detention.
According to San Sok Seiha, spokesman for the Phnom Penh Municipal Police, Daravy appeared in court by order of the prosecutor while the other five people are being held for questioning by the Phnom Penh Municipal Police. A decision has not been made as to whether they will be released or appear in court, he said.
“One of the people arrested is the activist Hun Vannak," said Em Bunnarith, personal assistant of Rong Chhun.
On July 31, Chhun, who is a representative of the Cambodian Watchdog Council and president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, was arrested at his home in Phnom Penh for allegedly criticizing the government regarding its border negotiations with Vietnam—several critics have warned that the border negotiations had resulted in land losses for Cambodians living along the 1,270 kilometer border with Vietnam.
On Aug. 7 international organizations, local civil society groups and communities issued a statement strongly condemning Chhun’s arrest, calling on the Cambodian government and the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to immediately drop all charges against the union leader and release him from pre-trial detention.
Also on Aug. 7, a petition was sent to several embassies and international organizations, asking them to intervene for the Cambodian authorities to release Chhun from jail. "We hope that all ambassadors and all democratic countries [will] intervene to immediately release Rong Chhun unconditionally," said the petition delivered by a group of people that included Chhun’s nephew Rong Vichea.
According to Am Sam Ath, deputy director of monitoring for the NGO Licadho, the arrest of Daravy and five young people who took part in the protest on Aug. 13, peacefully asking for Chhun’s release, amounts to a violation of Cambodian citizens’ basic rights, putting a restriction on their freedom.
San Sok Seiha, spokesman for the Phnom Penh Municipal Police, denied this, saying that the authorities had exercised the law since the young people had carried banners and caused chaos in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. They were arrested as their actions was a threat to social security and had hindered authority enforcement and the courts, he said.
The Ministry of Justice has warned people to stop gathering in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to demand Chhun’s release, telling them that this did not constitute a legal action. “This act puts pressure on the judiciary, which may [lead to] criminal charges under Article 522 of the Penal Code of the Kingdom of Cambodia,” a statement from the ministry read.
On Aug. 3, the Phnom Penh Municipal Administration had issued a directive stating that any rally in front of the court would affect public order, cause traffic jams, and violate the principles of the law on peaceful demonstrations.
Since last June, a group of women have been protesting in front of the courthouse on a regular basis for the release of their husbands and family members following the arrest of former opposition party leaders several months ago. Known as the Friday Women of Cambodia, the group has faced physical violence at the hands of government authorities but continues to protest to demand the release of their relatives.