U.N. labor agency condemns Cambodian arrests

The United Nations' labor rights organization said Friday it is seriously concerned about the recent arrests of three prominent human rights workers in Cambodia, which it said raised questions about the commitment of the government to freedom of expression. A statement from the secretariat of the International Labor Organization said the new detentions on criminal defamation charges were "alarmingly reminiscent" of the October 2005 arrest of Rong Chhun, head of the Cambodia Independent Teachers' Association and the issuance of an arrest warrant against Chea Mony, chief of the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, who fled the country.

"These repeated actions appear to target meaningful freedom of expression and association and raise serious queries as to the commitment on the part of the Government to ensure full respect for civil liberties, a necessary cornerstone for trade union rights," said the statement from the Geneva-based ILO.

It said the detentions of prominent figures for exercising their right of freedom of expression "represents a fundamental danger to democracy."

The three recent arrests were related to a banner allegedly denouncing Prime Minister Hun Sen for having given up Cambodian territory to neighboring Vietnam.

On Thursday, the human rights group Amnesty International expressed concern over the same cases. In all the instances, the charges were initiated by Hun Sen or other members of the government.

"The situation is deteriorating sharply and there is a real risk that other activists will be arrested on similarly politically motivated charges," said a statement from the London-based organization, quoting its Southeast Asia researcher, Brittis Edman. "The right to freedom of expression is being fundamentally undermined, with the government increasingly using the courts as a tool to stifle criticism,” reports the AP. I.L.

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