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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — The United States has joined the European Union and U.N. human-rights agencies in expressing concern over the extended pretrial detention of five Cambodian human-rights activists held for more than a year.

The five current or former staff members of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association are accused by Cambodian officials of bribing a woman to change testimony that was damaging to then-deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha, who was accused by the government of acting illegally in connection with an extramarital affair.

The related cases are generally seen as part of a campaign by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government to weaken its political opponents, especially ahead of nationwide local elections next month. Hun Sen and his ruling Cambodia People’s Party have hounded the opposition through the courts, which are considered to be under their political influence.

A Cambodian court late last month agreed to allow a sixmonth extension of the activists’ pretrial detention.

“They have been subjected to a never-ending nightmare of deliberate delays and political manipulation of the judicial system designed to punish them, and intimidate civil society to stifle any criticism of the government as the country heads into commune, and then national, elections,” New Yorkbased Human Rights Watch and the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, a network of human-rights organizations, said last month.

Cambodia’s veteran opposition leader Sam Rainsy, the head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, is facing prison time for defamation and other charges he says are groundless and politically motivated. He has stayed in exile and resigned his position, which is now held by Kem Sokha. Under a recently passed law, the party was threatened with dissolution unless Sam Rainsy resigned.

Print Headline: Cambodia feeling heat on detainees

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