FIVE activists in Cambodia – dubbed the “Adhoc Five” – who have been fighting for bail from pretrial detention had their seventh attempt at release rejected on Monday by the country’s Supreme Court.
With the decision, which came without reason, the five – four activists from local rights group Adhoc and an official from the National Election Committee (NEC) who previously worked for Adhoc – will remain behind bars where they have been for over 10 months now.
They were nabbed in April for allegedly bribing a witness in a case relating to a sex scandal allegedly involving opposition leader Kem Sokha.
Cambodian law dictates detainees may be held for up to six months prior to trial for the purpose of investigation.
However, the Constitution also allows for a six-month extension if requested by a judge in felony cases.
Adhoc’s Lim Mony, Yi Soksan, Nai Vongda and Ny Sokha, as well as NEC deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya, face up to 10 years in jail for bribing a witness – Sokha’s alleged mistress – and conspiracy to bribe a witness.
However, the group insists the alleged bribe in question was a standard transport and food stipend offered to anyone Adhoc helps.
The group has had their bail requests denied six times before – twice by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, thrice by the Appeal Court and once by the Supreme Court in December – for various reasons, including their release could cause civil unrest.
However, many NGOs and international groups have decried their lengthy detentions, deeming it politically-motivated and intended to quell dissent.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Dec 1 the courts’ refusal to grant the group bail was “part of the government’s persecution of Cambodia’s rights groups.”
“The Supreme Court showed its political bias in refusing bail for five human rights defenders criminally charged for doing their jobs in a way the government didn’t like,” HRW Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement after the apex court rejected their bail request the first time.
“No one should mistake these prosecutions for anything other than Prime Minister Hun Sen’s effort to undo decades of work by Cambodian groups and the UN to promote the human rights of all Cambodians,” he said.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) last year deemed their detention as being in violation of international human, political and civil rights conventions, of which the Cambodian government is a signatory, and demanded their immediate release, local daily the Phnom Penh Post reported.
Their continued detention comes at a time when the Cambodian government has been repeatedly accused of using the judiciary to silence dissenting voices.
Political analyst Kim Sok last month was charged with defamation and incitement, and subsequently placed in pretrial detention, for alleging the ruling Cambodian People’s Party was involved in the assassination of high-profile analyst Kem Ley last year.
Prominent land rights activist Tep Vanny was also slapped with two separate charges over altercations during a protest in 2011 and another in 2013.
Her six-month sentence over a scuffle back in 2011, which was handed down last month, was particularly quizzical as she was released on bail shortly after her initial arrest and the case lay dormant for five years.
The case was only revived in 2016 when Vanny was arrested for protesting the imprisonment of the Adhoc Five.
Vanny is a frequent advocate for villagers who are pitted against the government or large companies in land disputes and land grab cases in Cambodia.
Most prominent is her involvement in the years-long Boeung Kak lake land dispute.