Cambodia to Aust: Dissident arrests lawful

Unionist Rong Chhun was detained for alleging border infringements along Cambodia's eastern frontier
Unionist Rong Chhun was detained for alleging border infringements along Cambodia's eastern frontier

Cambodian authorities have told Australian ambassador Pablo Kang a spate of recent arrests including political, human rights and environmental activists were made within the law after protesters threatened the peace and stability of the country.

"Gathering in the streets to protest the release of an individual is putting pressure on the courts and law enforcement, which is not the legal way and deviates from the principle of the rule of law," Justice Minister Koeut Rith said.

He was responding to online comments by Kang expressing concern over the arrests, which have gathered pace since unionist Rong Chhun was detained almost a month ago for alleging border infringements by the Vietnamese along Cambodia's eastern frontier.

Rong Chhun's supporters have since staged regular protests outside the courts where he is being tried.

Last week a court jailed seven members of the banned Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) for five to seven years on charges for treason while members of the Mother Nature environmental group, bloggers and even rappers have also been detained.

"The arrest of any individual by the competent authorities was in accordance with the laws of Cambodia," Rith said in comments published in the Khmer language press.

He also told Kang that defamation and misrepresentation of the border issue with the intention of inciting social unrest was illegal and would destroy the peace and stability of the country, adding the rights and freedoms of the individual must be exercised within the framework of the law.

Kang raise his concerns after the United Nations' spokesperson for the High Commissioner for Human Rights urged the Cambodian government to end the arrests of activists.

"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," the spokesperson said.

CNRP leader Kem Sokha, who has met with Kang, remains under house arrest in Phnom Penh where he is also facing treason charges.

The CNRP was banned from contesting the 2018 election, which resulted in the CPP winning every seat in the National Assembly, sparking an outcry among Western nations, including the withdrawal of some trade perks by the European Union.

Australian Associated Press