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December 08, 2022

Fair Trial Report for Rong Chhun, Labor Union Leader

Cambodian flag and map

Cambodian flag and map

Executive Summary

Mr. Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions and a member of the Cambodia Watchdog Council, issued a public statement, representing the Cambodia Watchdog Council, regarding claims that recent border negotiations finalized between Cambodia and Vietnam had resulted in a number of villagers along the border losing their land. Based on these statements, on July 31, 2020 Mr. Chhun was arrested at his home in Phnom Penh and was charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court of First Instance with incitement to commit a felony under Articles 494 and 495 of the Cambodian Criminal Code.

On the day he was arrested, the Joint Committee on Border Affairs of Cambodia issued a statement denying the claims made by Rong Chhun and called on the public not to believe nor share his statement. Later in August 2020, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered border officials to meet with residents along the border who claimed they had lost land. Those border officials later reported their findings that no land was lost to Vietnam.

A significant public outcry ensued following Rong Chhun’s arrest, both in Cambodia and globally. Internationally, Rong Chhun’s case was championed by foreign politicians such as Julian Hill, MP in Australia, while foreign embassies in Cambodia, including those of Australia and the United States of America, raised their concerns with the Cambodian government over Rong Chhun’s arrest. Domestically, protestors gathered outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court of First Instance, demanding Rong Chhun’s release. Six protestors were also arrested for participating in protests demanding the release of Rong Chhun.

Rong Chhun’s trial began on 15 January, 2021 but was subsequently postponed to February 2021 owing to COVID-19. The trial was postponed again due to subsequent government-imposed lockdowns during March and April 2021. Throughout the trial, Rong Chhun criticized the actions of police officers who arrested him, claiming that they did so without producing a warrant at the time of arrest. He similarly questioned the notion that his warrantless arrest was justified by his having committed a caught rapid offense.

On 18 August 2021, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court of First Instance issued its judgment. Rong Chhun was sentenced to two years in prison, and ordered to pay a fine of 2 million Khmer riel (equivalent to approximately US $490) as well as a collective 400 million Khmer riel (approximately US $98,000) to the Joint Committee on Border Affairs. While Chhun was granted bail and released from jail in November 2021, serious questions have been raised regarding the politicized nature of his conviction and the problematic criminal trial process he faced. This report will analyze the international legal implications of Mr. Chunn’s detention and prosecution, while evaluating this treatment against the backdrop of rights to free speech and advocacy.

Read the Full Report (ENGLISH)

Read the Full Report (KHMER)