Poverty and land rights in Cambodia have sparked protests. Source: Flickr
Cambodia must drop its politically motivated criminal probe into rights lawyers Am Sam-at and Chan Puthisak, Amnesty International and other human rights groups are arguing.
Sam-at, a human rights monitor at the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights for nearly 20 years, and Puthisak, a land rights activist and former political prisoner, are accused of instigating violence at a October protest.
The authorities reportedly dispersed what had been a peaceful protest in Phnom Penh and when Puthisak attempted to prevent officers confiscating a drum, he was beaten, according to a video of the incident. When Sam-at tried to intervene, the so-called para-police beat him around the head.
“The investigation of Sam-at and Puthisak by the Cambodian authorities is a typically absurd and undisguised case of judicial harassment,” said Champa Patel of Amnesty International. “As usual, unnecessary and excessive use of force by the para-police goes unpunished, and those who work to promote and protect human rights find themselves subject to criminal proceedings.”
The following month, two para-police officers filed a case with Phnom Penh Court of First Instance alleging that they were injured at the protest meaning Sam-at and Puthisak now face up to three years in jail. Complaints filed by Sam-at and Puthisak are apparently not being investigated.
The October 10 protest involved around 150 demonstrators and was reportedly peacefully calling for respect for housing and land rights in Freedom Park, an area designated for rallies.
Human Rights Watch said: “The protesters were marching on a street adjacent to the park when the incident took place. Videos of the incident establish that the demonstration was peaceful and that Sam-at was wearing a blue human rights monitor vest when the para-police attacked him.
“There are currently as many as 26 human rights and political activists in prison on charges which have all the hallmarks of being politically motivated. This includes 14 political activists who were jailed following a demonstration in July 2014, when para-police violently clashed with participants.”
The Cambodian legal system has, however, managed to investigate a Japanese restaurant owner accused of overseeing a smuggling ring that forced women into sex work in Japan. He is being charged with trafficking in Cambodia along with his wife and a member of staff.
Seven Cambodian women from a restaurant in Gunma to the northwest of Tokyo were rescued in December after appealing for help on Facebook.
Many women from Asean seek higher wages in Japan but often find themselves forced into sex work or indentured labour.