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UN rights experts call for immediate release of 5 human rights defenders in Cambodia

[JURIST] Two UN human rights experts pressed [press release] the Royal Government of Cambodia to release five human rights defenders on Wednesday. The defenders were detained in May over allegations that they assisted a woman accused of making false claims while under pressure from the Anti-Corruption Unit. The charges, which are seen as politically motivated, were ruled "arbitrary" by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. UN Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith recalled that a group of Human Rights experts sent an urgent appeal to the Cambodian Government when the defenders were detained in May 2016. The experts requested the legal basis for the detention and urged Cambodian authorities to uphold their obligations upheld under international human rights law and release the defenders. Cambodia signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) [text], which prohibits "the use of criminal provisions as a pretext to suppress and prevent the legitimate exercise of the right to freedom of expression and to silence human rights defenders."

The lack of transparency in the Cambodian legislature and contention between political parties have caused international concern. In September a spokesperson from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights[official website] expressed concern [JURIST report] regarding the intimidation of opposition politicians and peaceful protesters in Cambodia. The prime minister of Cambodia filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] in August alleging defamation against an opposition leader and opposition party leader. In June the Cambodian parliament voted [JURIST report] to allow the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to open an investigation into opposition leader Kem Sohka regarding his alleged involvement with a prostitute. In November 2015 the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, warned [JURIST report] that the increasing polarization of the political parties in Cambodia is reaching a breaking point. Also that November Cambodian opposition leader am Rainsy was removed [JURIST report] as a member of the country's National Assembly. That month a Cambodian court indicted [JURIST report] three men in the beating of two opposition lawmakers. In October 2015 the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed [JURIST report] concern over the "organized attack" on opposition politicians in Cambodia.

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