A U.N. working group called on the Cambodian government to release the five people still held in the government's probe into an alleged affair by opposition party leader Kem Sokha.
In a decision made public over the weekend, the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) said detaining the four workers for human rights group ADHOC and an election official violated international human, political and civil rights conventions to which the Cambodian government is a signatory.
"There is a sufficient basis to conclude that the five individuals in this case have been discriminated against based on their status as human rights defenders, and in violation of their right to equality before the law and equal protection of the law," the WGAD wrote in their findings.
Lim Mony, Nay Vanda, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, all workers for ADHOC (the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association) and National Election Commission (NEC) deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya were arrested in April. They are accused of attempting to pay hush money to Kem Sokha's purported mistress in order to buy here silence.
Kem Sokha and a local Cambodia National Rescue Party official were granted royal pardons in the case against the CNRP leader, but the other five people accused in the case remain in prison. The pardons came after Prime Minister Hun Sen, who heads the ruling Cambodian People's Party, asked King Norodom Sihamoni to issue them.
In addition, the WGAD found that targeting of ADHOC staff members for having provided "legitimate legal advice and other assistance" violated the five detained activists their right to freedom of association.
It also found that pre-trial detentions, lack of legal counsel and government bias against the five also violated their rights.
"The statements made by the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Women Affairs, the Cambodia Human Rights Committee, the Head of the Anti-Corruption Unit, and the investigating judge assumed that the five individuals were guilty of a crime and denied them the presumption of innocence," the working group wrote.
'I trust he wouldn't fail to follow his words'
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin brushed aside the group's findings, telling the Phnom Penh Post that "the courts have investigated the case with enough evidence [and] witnesses, and found that the five people had bad intentions to commit a crime."
While the five still remain in jail, there is hope of reaching a pardon deal for the five and land-rights activist Tep Vanny similar to the one that absolved Kem Sokha.
Bov Sophea, a representative of Boeng Kak lake community, told RFA she hopes that Minister of Interior Sar Kheng will honor his words to release the five while he spoke to the reports at the National Assembly recently.
"We have faith in the Minister of Interior Sar Kheng who has promised to release the jailed NGOs staffers by the end of this month," she said. "I trust that as a senior official, he wouldn't fail to follow his words."
Tep Vanny gained prominence as an activist fighting the Boeung Kak Lake land grab, when some 3,500 families were evicted from the neighborhood surrounding the urban lake in Phnom Penh.
On Sept. 19 Tep Vanny was convicted of insulting and obstructing public officials and was sentenced to six months in prison in relation to a protest in November 2011 near Hun Sen's residence.
Her attorney was absent from the courtroom in what some human rights organizations called an abuse of her right to a fair trial.
The lake was filled with sand to make way for a development project with close ties to Hun Sen and the CPP.
Seizure of land for development-often without due process or fair compensation for displaced residents- is a major cause of protests in Cambodia and other authoritarian Asian countries, including China and Laos.
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