Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - ACU keeps the heat on as PM dismisses UN’s claims to immunity

ACU keeps the heat on as PM dismisses UN’s claims to immunity

An activist shouts at police yesterday morning at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in the lead up to the questioning of Adhoc officials.
An activist shouts at police yesterday morning at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in the lead up to the questioning of Adhoc officials. Hong Menea

ACU keeps the heat on as PM dismisses UN’s claims to immunity

After day-long questioning at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday, four Adhoc staffers and an election official were sent back to the Anti-Corruption Unit without any charges being filed.

Expected to return to court today, the four local rights group staffers – Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Nay Vanda and Lem Mony – and National Election Committee Deputy Secretary-General Ny Chakrya were questioned by five different prosecutors at court, with court spokesman Ly Sophana saying questioning would continue today and refusing to divulge the nature of any potential charges.

Kea Sophal, one of the defence lawyers representing the four Adhoc officials, said after listening to their testimonies yesterday, she hoped no charges would be filed at all.

“Today the prosecutor discussed the charges, but I hope they will not take action because it’s not a big offence – it’s just an open letter from Srey Mom [Chandaraty] accusing them without evidence,” she said.

Speaking to the Post, Sam Sokong, defence lawyer for Chakrya, said his client was only questioned about his relationship with Adhoc – Chakrya is a former staffer with the rights group – with no evidence against him being produced in court.

The five were detained by the ACU on Thursday in relation to accusations by salon worker Khom Chandaraty, who claimed they asked her to lie about her alleged relationship with CNRP acting president Kem Sokha.

As they were being brought to court yesterday, civil society groups and family members outside protested their detention.

The ACU’s crosshairs have also shifted to Sally Soen, an employee with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), who was summonsed last week but failed to appear at the ACU offices, with ACU boss Om Yentieng threatening to arrest the UN staffer.

Reacting to the ACU chief’s threat, Wan-Hea Lee, OHCHR representative in Cambodia, said the Convention on the Immunities and Privileges of the United Nations provides its staffers immunity from any legal process “in respect of words spoken or written and all acts performed by them in their official capacity”.

Speaking to reporters last week, Yentieng said OHCHR’s memorandum of understanding with the government had lapsed and they had no mandate in the country, with Lee saying that the agreement had nothing to do with Soen’s immunity.

“The MOU, however, is not the basis for Mr Soen’s immunity, which stems from his status as UN staff,” she added.

Rhona Smith, UN special rapporteur for human rights in Cambodia, on Saturday evening said she had “deep concerns” over the ACU’s actions and hoped that “the procedural guarantees under international human rights law will be faithfully applied.”

Speaking to port workers at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has occasionally chimed in on the current scandal, said no one amount of immunity would help anyone if they had committed a crime.

“Please, all NGOs or workers at United Nations, do not depend on immunity,” he said. “You may have the mother or father of all immunities, but when it comes time to arrest you – you will be jailed.”

Also weighing in on the ACU’s targeting of rights workers was self-exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who, while speaking to supporters in Svay Rieng via Skype, called the ruling party a “stupid group” for using the watchdog to “ill-treat” civil society groups and the opposition – likening it to treatment meted out by Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot.

“Now there are more and more new events showing clearly that they [government] do not have any different way of getting rid of us besides provoking us continuously,” Rainsy said.

“Please do not be afraid at all,” he said. “On the contrary, [we] must strengthen our spirit and unite together.”

Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan dismissed Rainsy’s comments as “uninteresting”, adding that the ACU and courts have worked in accordance with legal procedures.

“Do not care for what he said; it is useless,” Eysan said. “Whoever, and not only lawmakers and politicians, is doing illegally acts must be responsible under the law.”

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