GENEVA (11 September 2020) – Press briefing on Cambodia by the Spokesperson of the High Commissioner for human rights

Since 31 July, when prominent trade unionist Rong Chhun was arrested at his home in Phnom Penh by around 30 police officers, we have documented the arrest of 24 human rights defenders in Cambodia – including eight in September alone. Thirteen of those arrested were subsequently released, reportedly after signing agreements under duress to discontinue human rights activities. Twelve remain in detention – including one woman who was arrested after leaving the UN Human Rights Office in Cambodia on Monday (7 September).

Most of them face charges of incitement to commit felony – including three environmental defenders. Two of the environmental rights defenders were arrested after posting on Facebook their plans to walk to the Prime Minister’s house to raise potential biodiversity and flooding concerns regarding the development of Boeng Ta Mauk lake. Numerous individuals have also reported receiving threatening phone calls, including death threats, if they don’t cease their human rights activism, and have reported that they are being followed.

Numerous human rights defenders are currently in hiding for fear of being arrested. We have also witnessed the unnecessary and excessive use of force by security forces against women demonstrators on at least five separate occasions in recent weeks, and most recently on 4 September where a woman demonstrator was violently pushed to the ground and required hospitalization.

We have also documented the intimidation of those participating in peaceful demonstrations – including protestors calling for measures to alleviate the economic impact of COVID-19 on livelihoods, environmental activists, as well as those demanding the release of detained human rights defenders.

On 7 September, the Ministry of Interior declared the activities of two community-based organisations to be illegal, accusing them of “conducting activities to create provocation and incitement affecting the stability, security, public order and create chaos in the society through the use of social media and other media network to publicize article, leaflets, pictures, video clips and conducting illegal demonstrations.” A number of other organisations have received visits by officials, checking their registration, identity and other documents while also experiencing continued surveillance.

The current situation marks a deepening of the Government’s intolerance to dissent and repression of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association. It is mainly directed at human rights organizations, environmentalists and human rights defenders. We call on the Government to immediately and unconditionally release those detained for their exercise of these rights, and to bring an end to the intimidation of civil society actors. We call on the security forces to stop resorting to unnecessary and excessive force and intimidation against those engaged in peaceful protests.