Thach Setha, vice president of the Candlelight Party, is brought to Cambodia’s Supreme Court in Phnom Penh, on June 19, 2023 (Photo: Citizen journalist via RFA)

By UCA News reporter

Jan 26 2024

Civil society groups have demanded the release of jailed dissidents in Cambodia as authorities continue the drive to round up and prosecute the regime’s critics.

That includes Thach Setha, vice-president of Candlelight Party, whose conviction by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for issuing bad checks was upheld by an Appeal Court on Jan 23.

He was jailed for 18 months in September after the Candlelight Party was banned from contesting the July election, which enabled the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to secure victory and then Prime Minister Hun Sen to transfer power to his eldest son Hun Manet.

Charges against Thach Setha have been described as politically motivated by civil society groups.

He has denied issuing the checks and called for further investigations but this was rejected by the Appeal Court judge, Ly Sokleng, who backed the lower court’s decision.

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has backed Thach Setha and also called on authorities to drop all charges against Ny Nak, an outspoken government critic, who was jailed on Jan 5 in response to comments he posted on Facebook.

These comments were about the government granting 91 hectares of land in southern Kampot province to Labor Minister Heng Sour.

“What achievements has Heng Sour made for the Khmer nation, that the government gave him forest land as his personal property? RIP Khmer forests,” Ny Nak wrote.

He is currently being held in pretrial detention on what HRW described as “politically motivated charges” of incitement and criminal defamation.

“Cambodia’s new government has picked up where the previous government left off in its persecution of government critics,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW.

“The authorities should respect the right to free expression and immediately and unconditionally release Ny Nak,” he said.

Ny Nak rose to prominence in September when he and his wife were assaulted by men with metal batons in broad daylight in Phnom Penh. He was hospitalized with head injuries

He claimed that two days before the attack, on the evening of Sept. 10, CPP members had urged him to join their party and warned him to cease his public criticism of the government.

HRW also said authorities failed to seriously investigate the attack or to make progress in identifying those responsible. Last week his wife said that her husband’s health is “now weak”. He has headaches, dizziness, and itchy hands and feet.”

“Prime Minister Hun Manet is continuing down the same rights-abusing path as his father, and outspoken dissidents like Ny Nak will bear the brunt of that abuse,” Robertson said. “Cambodia’s aid and trade partners should ensure that their future engagement with the government is based on tangible and systematic improvements in human rights.”

Rights groups say Cambodia is currently holding about 60 political prisoners behind bars, including Theary Seng, a prominent American-Khmer lawyer and editor of the Khmer version of the Bible.

In December, Cambodian authorities rejected a request from 18 US senators urging her release. She is serving a six-year sentence for treason linked to an alleged 2019 plot to overthrow Hun Sen. – UCA News