Mr Ny Sokha, Mr Yi Soksan, Mr Nay Vanda, Ms Lim Mony and Mr Ny Chakrya, the “Khmer 5” are Cambodian human rights defenders who face judicial harassment and had spent 427 days in pre-trial detention, as a result of their legitimate human rights work. Their detention was widely criticized and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, in a landmark decision, declared their detention to be arbitrary. They have taken leading advocacy roles, calling for the promotion and protection of human rights in Cambodia. Their work as human rights defenders is contributing to empower thousands of Cambodians to actively defend their rights and seek justice.
Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan, Vanda and Lim Mony are all senior staff members of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (“ADHOC”), one of the leading Cambodian human rights NGOs. Ny Chakrya, a former ADHOC staff member, is now the Deputy Secretary-General of Cambodia’s National Election Committee (“NEC”). He is the only independent and non-partisan member of the body, responsible for election monitoring and internal audits into allegations of election fraud. ADHOC was founded by a group of former political prisoners in 1991. ADHOC is an NGO devoted to protecting and promoting human rights, rule of law, and democracy in Cambodia. It has played a vital role in protecting destitute victims of egregious human rights abuses, by providing them with advice, legal and material support.
The detention of the five human rights defenders came in the context of an increasingly severe crackdown on civil society and the political opposition in Cambodia, with many individuals facing arrest and prosecution as a result of their legitimate human rights work. The five had collectively worked on the case of Ms Khom Chandaraty, a woman alleged to have had an extra-marital relationship with Kem Sokha, the then deputy leader of Cambodia’s main opposition party. In their roles at ADHOC, the five provided routine legal and material assistance to Chandaraty. She had approached ADHOC for support upon being subject to criminal investigation in relation to the alleged affair. She then changed her narrative from denying the alleged affair to admitting she had indeed engaged in an extra-marital relationship with Kem Sokha. Khom Chandaraty then alleged in an open letter that the five had convinced her to lie in the course of investigations.
On the 27 and 28 April 2016, the #FreeThe5KH were summoned to and questioned overnight at the Anti-Corruption Unit, with their official detention having been declared on 28 April. The Investigating Judge indicted all five of them on charges involving bribery of a witness .All five HRDs were placed in pre-trial detention pending judicial investigation.
The five were released from pre-trial detention under the supervision of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after 427 days on 29 June 2017. They are prohibited from travelling and are awaiting a trial hearing date to be set. 55 Cambodian and international civil society organisations launched the #FreeThe5KH campaign in August 2016 in support of the Five, to peacefully raise awareness of their detention, to show them solidarity by reminding them that they have not been forgotten and to call for their immediate release. Despite the uncertainty they face, they have shown astonishing courage and resolve. The Five have repeatedly stated their determination to continue to promote human rights in Cambodia and to fight against injustice in Cambodia. It is yet to be seen to what extent they will be able to continue their human rights work while this case continues to hang over their heads and invisibly ties their hands.