UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith has been refused permission by Cambodia’s government to meet and speak with detained political opposition leader Kem Sokha while she visits the country this week, Smith said on Monday.
Kem Sokha, leader of the now-banned Cambodia National Rescue Party, is being held under house arrest after being released from prison on Sept. 10, 2018, a year after he was arrested on treason charges widely seen as politically motivated.
The release of the 65-year-old former CNRP president from pre-trial detention carries the conditions that he must stay within a block radius of his home, cannot meet with CNRP officials or foreigners, and cannot speak at or host any rallies or political activities.
He still faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted of treason.
“My request to meet with former opposition leader Kem Sokha has been denied,” Smith told RFA’s Khmer Service by email on Oct. 29.
“I [also] requested meetings with a range of government ministries and am awaiting the finalization of the schedule,” Smith said.
“I will also meet with representatives of the diplomatic community and from civil society organizations working with human rights and with specific interests in the areas of this mission, which focuses specifically on human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals.”
Calls seeking comment from government spokesperson Phai Siphan and Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin rang unanswered on Friday.
'A good chance'
Speaking to RFA, Am Sam Ath—Investigations Manager for the Cambodia-based rights group Licadho—said that Cambodia’s government should allow Smith to meet with Kem Sokha in order to defuse international tensions over July elections, widely seen as rigged, that returned Prime Minister Hun and his ruling Cambodian People’s Party to power.
“Given the current political controversy in Cambodia, and especially the confrontation with the European Union [over threatened trade sanctions], this would be a good chance to move forward in transparency,” Am Sam Ath said.
“Rhona Smith should be allowed to meet with the opposition leader,” he said.
Also speaking to RFA, independent analyst Lao Mong Hay said that even now that Kem Sokha is under house arrest, Cambodian authorities have surrounded him with large numbers of security forces.
“It is like a prison camp,” he said.
As a U.N. official, Smith should be allowed to meet with Kem Sokha, he said.
“She has the right to meet anyone, including any prisoner, she likes.”
On Friday, Kem Sokha mourned the death on Oct. 25 of a party member in a brief remark on Facebook that was his first public statement after being moved from prison into house arrest in September.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Richard Finney.