Civil Society Condemns Upholding of Conviction of Human Rights Defender Ny Chakrya

Joint Organizations

December 15, 2016 - We, the undersigned civil society groups, condemn in the strongest terms the upholding of the unjustified conviction of the former Head of the Human Rights and Monitoring Section of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and current Deputy Secretary-General of the National Election Committee (NEC), Mr. Ny Chakrya, in a verdict handed down by the Court of Appeal today.

This case is not only an instance of injustice committed against one individual, but also just one example of a larger, deeply troubling pattern, whereby over the past year the Cambodian government has used a court system armed with vaguely-drafted provisions of the Cambodian Criminal Code, in what appears to be a deliberate effort to eliminate all dissenting voices ahead of the upcoming elections. Human rights defenders, the labor movement, and civil society activists all face an increasingly hostile environment, in which legitimate human rights work and free expression are criminalized, peaceful protesters are imprisoned, and democratic space is increasingly restricted.

Despite pardons being granted to opposition members Kem Sokha and Seang Chet in recent weeks, members of the political opposition also continue to face arrest and imprisonment on spurious charges. Although this conviction relates to his previous work as a human rights defender, Mr. Ny Chakrya’s current role as the only non-partisan member of the NEC and his position as the Deputy Secretary-General of the body, strongly suggests that his prosecution is an attempt to undermine the independence of the NEC. If Mr. Ny Chakrya’s conviction becomes final (i.e. subject to no further appeals), he will be removed from his position at the NEC, a development that would seriously call into question whether the upcoming elections could be considered free, fair, and legitimate.

On 22 September 2016, Mr. Ny Chakrya was convicted by Phnom Penh Municipal Court on charges of defamation, malicious denunciation, and publication of commentaries intended to unlawfully coerce judicial authorities, under Articles 305, 311 and 522 respectively of the Criminal Code. He was sentenced to six months in prison and given a fine of six million Riel (approximately $1500). The initial complaint against Mr. Ny Chakrya was submitted by an investigating iudge and a deputy prosecutor at Siem Reap Provincial Court, in relation to criticism he voiced in May 2015 during two press conferences organized by ADHOC, calling for investigation into procedural irregularities in the handling of a land dispute and the release of two victims of land rights violations in that conflict. His appeal hearing took place in the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh on 6 December 2016.

All three charges of which Ny Chakrya was convicted constitute an erroneous and disproportionate application of criminal sanctions to punish and deter the exercise of the fundamental right to freedom of expression

We are extremely disappointed that the Court of Appeal failed to take this opportunity to exercise its judicial independence, and correct the serious deficiencies in the procedures and reasoning of the first instance court. The Municipal Court judge deliberated for a mere 15 minutes before deciding to convict Mr. Ny Chakrya on all three charges, while Mr. Ny Chakrya’s right to adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defense was severely undermined by the fact that for the past 230 days he – along with four of his former colleagues at ADHOC – has been held in unlawful arbitrary detention in a separate case which also bears all the hallmarks of politically motivated harassment of human rights defenders. All three charges on which Mr. Ny Chakrya was convicted constitute an erroneous and disproportionate application of criminal sanctions to punish and deter the exercise of the fundamental right to freedom of expression, and as such are in violation of Cambodia’s binding legal obligations under international and domestic human rights law. Political speech and discussions of human rights, such as the remarks made by Mr. Ny Chakrya, are protected under international human rights law.

We, the undersigned civil society groups, reiterate our strong condemnation of this flawed and unfair conviction and the continued detention of Ny Chakrya. We recall Cambodia’s binding obligations under the Constitution and international human rights law, and call on the Cambodian judiciary to discharge these obligations by acting with genuine independence, and on the Cambodian government to immediately cease its instrumentalization of the criminal justice system to silence critics and criminalize the peaceful and legitimate actions of human rights defenders.

This statement is endorsed by:

1 Alliance for Conflict Transformation (ACT)
2 Boeung Kak Community
3 Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
4 Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
5 Cambodian Human Rights Action Coalition (CHRAC)
6 Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)
7 Cambodian Independent Teacher Association (CITA)
8 Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL)
9 Coalition of Cambodian farmer Community (CCFC)
10 Committee for Free and Fair Election in Cambodia (COMFREL)
11 Community Peace-Building Network (CPN)
12 Democracy and Human Rights Organization in Action (DHRAC)
13 Equitable Cambodia
14 Gender and Development for Cambodia (GADC)
15 Housing Rights Task Force (HRTF)
16 Independent Democratic Association of Informal Economic (IDEA)
17 Indigenous Youth at Brame Commune, Preah Vihear Province
18 Khmer Youth Association (KYA)
19 Kuoy Ethnic Community at Prame Commune, Preah Vihear Province
20 Land Community, Village I, Sangkat III, Preah Sihanouk Province
21 Land Conflict Community, Krous Village, Battambong province
22 Lor Peang Community, Kampong Chhnang Province
23 Mother Nature
24 People Center for Development and Peace (PDP-Center)
25 Ponlok Khmer
26 Railway Station, Toul Sangke A Community
27 SOS International Airport Community
28 Strey Khmer Organization (SKO)

PDF format: Download full statement in English - Download full statement in Khmer
MP3 format: Listen to audio version in Khmer