By The Associated Press
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Apr 29, 2016
"We ... strongly condemn the summonsing and interrogation of civil society members for conducting vital and legitimate activities to protect human rights. This amounts to an outrageous misuse of the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) as a political tool to attack and intimidate civil society,"
Civil society statement
Cambodian authorities arrested five human rights workers Friday on accusations they tried to help cover up a woman's affair with the deputy leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. The action is the latest in a series by Prime Minister Hun Sen's government putting legal pressure on its critics and political opponents.
Anti-Corruption Unit director Om Yentieng told reporters that four officials from the rights group ADHOC and a National Election Committee member who formerly worked at the organization were detained on charges related to corruption.
He did not elaborate, but the five were among suspects questioned by his office this week over allegations they had sought to convince a woman to deny having had an affair with CNRP deputy leader Kem Sokha. The woman, a hairdresser, initially denied having an affair but later asserted she did.
The action came just days after Ou Virak, a prominent social and political analyst, was sued by the ruling Cambodian People's Party for suggesting online that the government's actions on the scandal amounted to a political set-up.
A provincial official belonging to the opposition party was arrested earlier this week for allegedly giving the woman $500 — via her mother — so that she would deny having had the affair.
The Anti-Corruption Unit is also seeking to detain a Cambodian official who works with the local U.N. human rights office. He has declined to appear and his office says he holds diplomatic immunity from arrest.
A joint statement issued Friday by more than two dozen non-governmental organizations called the activities of the Anti-Corruption Unit "the latest actions in a growing campaign to close civil society space ahead of the upcoming elections" in 2018.
"We ... strongly condemn the summonsing and interrogation of civil society members for conducting vital and legitimate activities to protect human rights. This amounts to an outrageous misuse of the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) as a political tool to attack and intimidate civil society," it said.