Over the past 10 days, two separate incidents have shown how far the situation facing human rights defenders (“HRDs”) is from meeting international human rights standards. Staff from two separate NGOs were arrested, held without charge and released only after signing “agreements,” which are little more than attempts by the government to stifle civil society and to restrict the ability of HRDs to promote and protect human rights.
On 9 September 2014, Ms. Meg Fukuzawa and Mr. Lida Sok, two employees of Equitable Cambodia, were investigating the human rights impacts of evictions that resulted from industrial sugarcane plantations in Oddar Meanchey province when police officers asked to accompany them to the police station where they were questioned for nearly 24 hours. Meg was only released after signing an agreement promising to not file a complaint over her detention. Equitable Cambodia, CCHR and other NGOs released a joint statement expressing our concerns over these arrests.
One week later, on 15 September 2014, three staff members of the environmental protection organization Mother Nature, which works on issues in Areng Valley, two community member and six youth activists were detained for several hours, after having blocked an access road to the Chhay Areng Dam in Koh Kong Province. Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, co-founder of Mother Nature, was only released after signing a letter of apology to the deputy governor of Koh Kong province, while the other ten were released after signing letters promising to not hold any more “activities.” Sam Khitveth, the provincial police chief in Koh Kong province, stated “We educated them and they signed contracts that said they would stop disrupting authorities.”
This past February, we released a Briefing Note which addressed the dangerous increasing practice of the government of forcing HRDs, protesters and everyday citizens to sign written statements agreeing to not partake in future demonstrations or illegal activities, as a condition of their release or to avoid charges. The Briefing Note highlighted 6 cases between April 2011 and February 2014 in which protesters had to sign a “contract” to secure their release from detention.
While it remains uncertain how these contracts will be further used by the government, this practice represents an unlawful restriction on HRDs’ and individuals’ rights to freedom of expression and assembly and dangerously restricts the environment in which HRDs operate.
These tactics used by the government to silence its critics are little more than tactics of intimidation. All of the letters previously signed should be immediately cancelled and considered null, and the government must immediately put an end to this practice of forcing HRDs and citizens to sign statements that restrict their rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association.