Cambodian Rappers Are Denied Help by Government Lawyers, NGOs Move to Assist

Two Cambodian rappers charged with ‘inciting’ public discontent over the 35-year rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen are ineligible for assistance from a legal team set up by the government to defend the poor, Cambodian sources told RFA Thursday.Rappers Kea Sokun and Long Puthera were arrested this month in Siem Reap province after releasing songs criticizing the Cambodian government’s handling of its border dispute with Vietnam and suggesting that Hun Sen’s lack of leadership had led to Cambodia’s economic decline.They are now being held awaiting trial on charges of “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” under Article 495 of Cambodia’s Penal Code, Siem Reap Provincial Court spokesman Chhuon Sophana told RFA on Tuesday.Cambodian NGOs have now sent or requested lawyers to defend the pair, with Am Sam Ath—deputy director of the rights group Licadho—saying the two rappers had only voiced their views and had not committed any crime.“They had simply expressed their views through music, which was not a case of incitement. Their arrest is a violation of their basic rights,” he said.Licadho is sending a lawyer to defend Kea Sokun, while the group Legal Aid of Cambodia will represent Long Puthera. Chan Chamroeun, Siem Reap provincial coordinator for the rights group Adhoc, said that he has also asked for lawyers who will request the pair be freed on bail.Phum Bunphann, a Siem Reap lawyer working for Hun Sen’s team of legal volunteers, meanwhile told RFA on Thursday that he cannot defend the pair, saying he can provide services only “to the poor, to vulnerable women, and to women facing issues with the law.”“We help the poor, but we can’t help everyone. Clients must meet certain criteria,” he said.Flu spreads in prisonsThe rappers’ arrests—part of a sweep against youth activists, labor unionists, and environmentalists—come as Cambodian NGOs have voiced concern over inmates’ health amid a severe influenza outbreak in the country’s overcrowded prisons, with Adhoc member and former prisoner Ny Sokha urging Cambodia’s Ministry of Health to take immediate action to stop the further spread of the disease.“The Prison Department should distance inmates from each other according to instructions from the Ministry of Health.  When I was in prison, we had skin diseases and could easily spread infections from one person to another,” he said.Ministry of Health spokesman Ly Sovann confirmed to RFA that severe influenza is spreading rapidly in the prisons, while a Ministry statement on Sept. 16 said the flu is spreading in jails, pagodas, and villages in the provinces of Takeo, Preah Vihear, Koh Kong, Battambang, and Banteay Meanchey.Though many monks fell ill last week, none tested positive for COVID-19, Sy Lovann said, adding that the flu is now spreading more quickly during the rainy season.Nuth Savana, spokesman for the Prison Department, meanwhile said outbreaks have occurred in three prisons in Koh Kong, Kampong Chama and Preah Vihear. He provided no details on how many inmates are now infected, but said that the department is working closely with health officials to prevent a further spread.“We are handling this with the same procedures that we use for Covid-19. We have also given the prisoners pills, and they are getting better,” he said.New wave of arrestsThe Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said last week that it had documented the arrest of 24 human rights campaigners since popular labor leader Rong Chhun, the president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, was taken into custody July 31, including eight in September alone.The wave of arrests come three years after opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha’s September 2017 arrest over an alleged plot to overthrow the government with the help of Washington. Cambodia’s Supreme Court banned his party in November that year for its supposed role in the scheme.The move to dissolve the CNRP marked the beginning of a wider crackdown by Hun Sen on the political opposition, NGOs, and the independent media that paved the way for his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election.Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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UK Parliament Launches Enquiry Into Xinjiang Internment Camps, Questions British Business Ties

Britain’s parliament on Wednesday opened an investigation into British business connections with China’s internment camps and use of forced labor in its Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, vowing to find ways to end British firms’ support of repression in the region, media and other sources said.The enquiry, launched by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, will also look for ways to strengthen atrocity-prevention mechanisms of Britain’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office and to support ethnic Uyghurs driven into exile, sources said.The UK move follows calls by the European Union and the U.S. to investigate conditions in Beijing’s sprawling network of camps in the region, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities since April 2017.Washington and others are also taking measures to block imports of suspect goods and to sanction and hold to account Chinese officials responsible for human rights violations in the XUAR.China’s treatment of its mostly Muslim ethnic Uyghur community “utterly abhorrent,” Layla Moran—foreign affairs spokeswoman for Parliament’s Liberal Democrats—said in a Sept. 16 statement, adding that the UK government now has a duty to act and impose sanctions to help stop the abuses.A Sept. 8 letter to China’s ambassador to the UK signed by 135 members of parliament had already signaled British lawmakers’ “extreme concern” over the situation in the XUAR, where authorities are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps since April 2017.China has sought to justify its network of camps as voluntary “vocational centers” despite reporting by RFA which has found that detainees are mostly held against their will in poor conditions, where they are forced to endure inhumane treatment and political indoctrination.“The UK has not done nearly enough,” Moran added in a Sept. 15 opinion piece in Britain’s newspaper The Times. “How any [government minister can watch the videos from the Xinjiang camps and decide that a course of relative inaction is beyond me.”“It is time the UK worked to regain our status as a country that defends and promotes human rights internationally,” Moran said.“The mass detention of Uighurs in Xinjiang has horrifying echoes of the 1930s,” said Conservative Party member and investigating committee chair Tom Tugendhat, quoted on Sept. 16 in the Hindustan Times. “There have been similar atrocities since, and each time the world has promised to never allow such violations to happen again.”“And yet, we now have clear, undeniable evidence of the persecution of more than one million people in these so-called re-education camps,” Tugendhat said, adding that his committee will look into ways the government can use to discourage private businesses in Britain from contributing to Beijing’s abuses in Xinjiang.The European Union on Monday called on China to allow independent observers to visit the XUAR to investigate China’s treatment of the Uyghurs, while in Washington the Trump administration announced new customs actions to block imports of Chinese products believed to be produced with forced labor.The Withhold Release Orders, measures intended to prevent goods suspected to have been made with forced labor from entering the United States, targeted three entities from Xinjiang and one from Anhui province in eastern China.Meanwhile, calls are growing in the U.S. for a boycott of Disney’s $200 million live-action film “Mulan,” shot partly in Xinjiang’s ancient Silk Road City of Turpan, with rights groups and others citing the new film’s links to entities responsible for repressing Uyghurs in the XUAR.Reported by RFA’s Uyghur Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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