Freedom of assembly blocked, activists arrested in Cambodia

Cambodian activists Kong Raiya and Soung Neakpaon remain in detention for alleged criminal incitement for their participation in a memorial march for murdered human rights defender Kem Ley. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the arrest of the men and calls on Cambodia’s authorities to drop charges.

Mourners pay respect at Kem Ley's funeral in July 2016. Source: AFP

A joint statement of human rights groups in Cambodia has denounced the “unjustified use of security personnel during the third anniversary of political commentator Kem Ley’s death” and the ongoing detention of activists Kong Raiya and Soung Neakpaon.

Kong Raiya and three family members were detained on Tuesday, July 9, after Raiya posted on Facebook that he was selling Kem Ley t-shirts and informed followers about transport to Phnom Penh to participate in the anniversary. A second activist Soung Neakpaon was detained on Wednesday, July 10, outside the Caltex petrol station where Kem Ley was murdered three years ago. Neakpaon was attending a commemorative at the Bokor petrol station and holding a sign that read “End extrajudicial killings.” He was arrested together with twin brothers/activists Chum Hout and Chum Hour who were released later that day.

Kem Ley, a prominent Cambodian commentator and human rights activist, was shot dead at the Caltex Bokor station in Phnom Penh on July 10, 2016, just days after giving a radio interview to Global Witness about the family business network of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The two activists detained for their involvement in the July 10 services are charged with criminal incitement under Articles 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code. They remain in detention at Phnom Penh’s Correctional Center 1. It is not the first arrest for Raiya. He was previously detained in August 2015 and sentenced to 18 months prison for a Facebook post.

According to the statement, the arrests took place as events in Phnom Penh and across several provinces were also restricted by authorities, who told organisers they required prior permission to hold events marking the anniversary. Organisers in Banteay Meanchey, Kampong Cham, Kampong Chhnang, and Kandal provinces reported being threatened with a police presence deployed to monitor events. In Phnom Penh, more than 50 police officers surrounded the event, allegedly aggressively disrupting the peaceful activities, seizing flowers and ordering people to remove their shirts.

The IFJ said: “Cambodia’s authorities must respect the right to public assembly and association. We demand the authorities to drop all charges against the two activists and release them immediately.”

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