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Proceedings Against Cambodian-American Human Rights Lawyer Violate Her Rights

A TrialWatch report released today finds that the criminal proceedings against Cambodian-American human rights lawyer Theary Seng violate her rights.

In particular, her ongoing mass trial–in which she is one among forty-seven defendants–shows just how far the Cambodian authorities are willing to go in turning the courts into political instruments.  In prior cases monitored by TrialWatch, Cambodia relied on vague laws and paltry evidence to convict journalists and activists of ‘incitement to disrupt social order.’  In this case, which is being monitored by CFJ’s partner the American Bar Association Center for Human Rights as part of TrialWatch, the authorities have not even bothered to explain why they are charging Theary Seng with conspiracy to commit treason and incitement: Indeed, she is not mentioned in the indictment at all (except in a list of names of accused) and when she asked for case file materials, the court denied her request, finding (in breach of international standards) that she could not represent herself and so was not entitled to the materials.

Six months after she was first summoned to court, with no details on why, it seems clear that the proceedings are based on her criticism of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.  This conclusion is bolstered by the fact that some of her co-defendants have been questioned in court on topics such as the posting of opinions critical of the government on Facebook–and even the viewing and “liking” of news stories about opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

With the U.S. Deputy Secretary of State in Cambodia today, and with the EU Parliament urging consideration of sanctions in light of the deteriorating human rights situation, it is past time for needed reforms, including strengthening the independence of judges and prosecutors, which is key to any fair process.  Amal Clooney, Co-President of the Clooney Foundation for Justice, said, “Cambodia should stop using vague laws and mass trials to prosecute critics.”