Cambodia: Drop charges against Venerable Sovath and end judicial harassment of HRDs

Cambodian human rights defender Venerable Luon Sovath faces trial today in a flawed and protracted judicial process that only aims to intimidate and silence him.

(Geneva) –Cambodian human rights defender Venerable Luon Sovath faces trial on 25 November 2014 in a flawed and protracted judicial process that only aims to intimidate and silence him, said the International Service for Human Rights.

A group of Cambodian and international human rights organisations called for the trumped-up charges against Venerable Sovath to be dropped immediately.

Venerable Sovath, a Cambodian Buddhist monk, is renowned for his work in supporting affected communities and human rights defenders, particularly in relation to land rights disputes. He was awarded the 2012 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders.

As a result of his innovative and effective work which utilises multimedia tools, he has been targeted by both State authorities and religious leaders in Cambodia. He has faced smear campaigns, death threats and repeated threats of imprisonment and defrocking.

Venerable Sovath faces trial today in a case from 2012, when he was tried in absentia. He faced charges for incitement to commit a felony for allegedly inciting and leading demonstrations against the government authorities by victims of land disputes in Chi Kreng, Siem Reap and Boeung Kak lake.

The presiding judge from this case had stated at the time that there was insufficient evidence to convict Venerable Sovath.

In the present case, Venerable Sovath will face this charge once more, combined with two other cases from incidents in 2013 that bear no relation to him. The two additional cases allege crimes of plotting against the government and intimidating or preventing people from voting.

‘It is disconcerting that, subsequent to being awarded a trial delay at the request of his lawyers on 18 September, the subsequent summons only charge Venerable Sovath with the original incitement charges’, said Ms. Pooja Patel of ISHR. ‘Given these discrepancies, it is not even certain what charges he will be called upon to respond to when the trial begins tomorrow’, she added.

‘These procedural and administrative errors have confused and prolonged the groundless proceedings against Venerable Sovath’, said Ms. Patel. ‘The previous judicial order from 2012 has been completely ignored, only serving to further erode any confidence in Cambodia’s judicial system’.

The UN expert on the human rights situation in Cambodia, Mr. Surya Subedi, on 18 November stated that ‘the lack of judicial independence is one of the central obstacles to achieving the just and inclusive society Cambodians strive for’.

In response to a spate of recent arrests and immediate convictions of land rights activists and opposition party members, Mr. Subedi expressed concern that Cambodia’s courts are used time and again as a tool of the executive.

The expert recalled that Cambodian law requires that court judgments may be based only on evidence. “When the evidence fails to prove guilt, it is the duty of the courts to set the defendants free,” Mr. Subedi stated.

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