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IFEX network condemns Hun Sen's brazen attack on local member, CCHR

Twitter/Sopheap Chak

IFEX, the global network of 119 organisations working to promote and defend freedom of expression and information worldwide, strongly and unequivocally condemns the recent remarks of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen calling for the Ministry of Interior to investigate and potentially shut down valued IFEX member the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) over allegations questioning their neutrality.

The order follows the politically motivated dissolution of the largest opposition party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), and the imprisonment of one of its leaders, Kem Sokha, on charges of treason. Sokha founded CCHR in 2002 and resigned from the organisation in 2007, before founding the Human Rights Party. CCHR has gone on to become one of the most prominent and well-respected human rights organisations, not only in Cambodia, but the entire ASEAN region.

CCHR has always maintained a strict policy of independence and non-partisanship, with a mandate to uphold the rights of all Cambodians, regardless of their political association, and in accordance with protections guaranteed under both Cambodian and international law.

CCHR's commitment to impartiality and universal respect for human rights has been a defining characteristic of its work since first joining the IFEX network in 2011. Indeed, independence from any political party or entity is a basic requirement for all groups that seek IFEX membership. As IFEX Executive Director, Annie Game warns, the allegations that CCHR “follows foreigners” is reminiscent of attacks against critical voices in a growing number of countries.

“The accusations against our colleagues at CCHR are part of a broad and insidious global trend of discrediting the legitimate work of groups promoting freedom of expression for all, often through the use of laws designed to limit, rather than, enable, space for civil society to flourish. The closure of such a principled and dedicated group as CCHR would be devastating for the safeguarding of Cambodians' rights at a time when they are under increasing threat, and would irrevocably add to the climate of censorship that has taken hold. Considered alongside other important voices that have been silenced, such a brazen action would signal to the world that Cambodia's stated support for free expression and association is an empty platitude.”

The closure of such a principled and dedicated group as CCHR would be devastating for the safeguarding of Cambodians’ rights at a time when they are under increasing threat, and would irrevocably add to the climate of censorship that has taken hold.

The recent action against CCHR is situated within a prolonged and escalating crackdown on democratic practices and civic space in the country. In recent months, the Cambodian government has forced the closure of media outlets, radio stations, and non-profit organisations. They have imprisoned activists such as five Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) staff members, as well as land rights defender Tep Vanny. Most recently, two former journalists with Radio Free Asia (RFA), Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, were arrested and charged with 'espionage' for allegedly attempting to report for RFA. On 15 September, RFA voluntarily shut its Phnom Penh bureau, citing the increasingly harsh climate for freedom of expression and the government's closure of multiple radio stations as the reason. The pair face up to 15 years in prison, despite the fact that RFA was never banned or outlawed in Cambodia. The 2016 killing of the prolific political commentator Kem Ley, and the subsequent unanswered questions about the motives and masterminds behind his murder, has also had a profound impact on political discourse.

With the upcoming national election in 2018, these measures can only be seen as a concerted effort to eliminate any monitoring of and reporting on the government's obligations to uphold the rights of Cambodian citizens, and to silence any accompanying criticisms.

In accordance with international standards ratified by the Cambodian Government, including the rights to freedom of expression and association enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and Articles 41 and 42 of Cambodia's own Constitution, we call on the government to drop its baseless investigation against CCHR and allow them to continue their legitimate human rights work free from interference. If an investigation does take place, we urge the government to abide by all standards of due process and ensure that the investigation is both impartial and transparent, as we are confident that this would clear CCHR of any wrongdoing.

Furthermore, we call on the international community, including the United Nations, rights groups, donors and trade partners to speak out on behalf of CCHR and in defense of the principles of open and pluralistic democratic debate, which the Hun Sen government seeks to diminish through its continued attacks on groups that promote and protect these values.

Sincerely,


This statement is endorsed by IFEX, the global network defending and promoting free expression, which is comprised of:

7amleh - Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media
ActiveWatch – Media Monitoring Agency
Ad IDEM/Canadian Media Lawyers Association
Adil Soz - International Foundation for Protection of Freedom of Speech
Afghanistan Journalists Center (AFJC)
Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC)
Albanian Media Institute
Aliansi Jurnalis Independen/Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI)
Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain (ADHRB)
Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
ARTICLE 19
Association for Civil Rights
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS)
Association of Caribbean Media Workers
Association of Independent Electronic Media
Bahrain Center for Human Rights
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Brazilian Association for Investigative Journalism
Bytes for All (B4A)
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR)
Cambodian Centre for Independent Media (CCIM)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Center for Independent Journalism - Hungary
Center for Independent Journalism - Romania
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR)
Center for Media Studies & Peace Building (CEMESP)
Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ)
Centro de Archivos y Acceso a la Información Pública
Centro de Reportes Informativos sobre Guatemala - CERIGUA
Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social
Child Rights International Network (CRIN)
Comité por la Libre Expresión - C-Libre
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Derechos Digitales
Digital Rights Foundation
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR)
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
Espacio Público
Federation of Nepali Journalists
Foro de Periodismo Argentino
Foundation for Press Freedom - FLIP
Freedom Forum
Freedom House
Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI)
Free Media Movement
Fundación Karisma
Fundamedios - Andean Foundation for Media Observation and Study
Global Voices Advox
Globe International Center
Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
Hong Kong Journalists Association
Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda)
Human Rights Watch (HRW)
Hungarian Civil Liberties Union
I'lam Arab Center for Media Freedom Development and Research
Independent Journalism Center - Moldova
Index on Censorship
Initiative for Freedom of Expression - Turkey
Institute for Media and Society (IMESO)
Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety
Institute for the Studies on Free Flow of Information
Institute of Mass Information
Instituto de Prensa y Libertad de Expresión - IPLEX
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad de Venezuela
Inter American Press Association
International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)
International Press Centre (IPC)
International Press Institute (IPI)
International Publishers Association (IPA)
IPS Communication Foundation - Bianet
Journaliste en danger (JED)
Journalists' Trade Union
Latin American Observatory of Regulation, Media and Convergence - OBSERVACOM
Maharat Foundation
MARCH
Mediacentar Sarajevo
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
Media Policy Institute
Media Rights Agenda (MRA)
Media Watch
Metamorphosis, Foundation for Internet and Society
Mizzima News
National Press Association
National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ)
Norwegian PEN
Observatorio Latinoamericano para la Libertad de Expresión - OLA
OpenMedia
P24 Platform for Independent Journalism
Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF)
Pacific Islands News Association
Pakistan Press Foundation
Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA)
PEN American Center
PEN Canada
PEN International
Privacy International
Public Association "Journalists"
Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
SFLC.in
Sindicato de Periodistas del Paraguay
Social Media Exchange (SMEX)
Southeast Asian Press Alliance
South East European Network for Professionalization of Media
South East Europe Media Organisation
Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM)
Thai Journalists Association
Trinidad and Tobago's Publishers and Broadcasters Association
Vigilance for Democracy and the Civic State
Visualizing Impact (VI)
West African Journalists Association (WAJA)
World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)
World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers

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