Rong Chhun’s Supporters Ask Embassies and International Organizations’ Help for his Release

Supporters of trade union leader and rights activist Rong Chhun on Aug. 7 gather at the US Embassy in Phnom Penh to deliver a petition asking for support to obtain his release from jail. Photo: activist group N1M Facebook page.
  • Phoung Vantha
  • August 7, 2020 12:56 PM

He was charged and jailed after criticizing Cambodia/Vietnam’s negotiations over border issues

PHNOM PENH--A petition was sent on Aug. 7 to numerous embassies and international organizations, asking them to intervene so that the Cambodian authorities will release trade union leader and rights activist Rong Chhun from jail.

The police raid conducted for the arrest of Chhon at 9:30 pm on July 31, which was followed by charging and sending him to prison is an injustice, as he only means to protect the country’s national interest, the petition read. 

"We hope that all ambassadors and all democratic countries [will] intervene to immediately release Rong Chhun unconditionally," said the petition, which was sent to the European Union; the embassies of France, Germany, Great Britain, Japan, Thailand and the United States; international NGOs, as well as the International Labour Organization and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  

Contacted regarding the responses obtained following the delivery of the petition, Chhun’s nephew Rong Vichea said he would reply later. Attempts to contact him again on Aug. 7 were unsuccessful.

Chhun, who is a representative of the Cambodian Watchdog Council and president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, was arrested on July 31 at his home in Phnom Penh after allegedly criticizing the government regarding its border negotiations with Vietnam. Over the years, several critics have warned that the border negotiations had resulted in land losses for Cambodians living along the 1,270 kilometer border with Vietnam.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Aug. 1 formally charged Chhun with incitement to cause serious social unrest under Article 495 of the Cambodian penal code.

On Aug. 3, 142 civil society groups and communities issued a statement strongly condemning the nighttime arrest of Rong Chhun and 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.

The Ministry of Justice 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 August 4 Human Rights Watch called on the Cambodian authorities to drop the incitement charges against Chhun and release him from jail. “The arrest of Rong Chhun is the latest example of unrelenting government repression against activists trying to protect ordinary Cambodians’ basic rights,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“The European Union should add this outrage to the long list of rights abuses that need to be resolved in negotiations over ‘Everything But Arms’ trade preferences,” he said, referring to the fact that Cambodia’s trade preferences are to be suspended by the European Union on Aug. 12 due to violations of the human rights principles.   

On Aug. 5, Phnom Penh's security forces surrounded and dispersed a group of people who had gathered to request Chhun’s release. Two young women were injured during the operation. The authorities said they had intervened as the group had not requested from Phnom Penh City Hall an authorization to hold a demonstration.

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