19 Suspects Convicted for CFF Attacks

Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted 19 of 20 accused members of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters Thursday, sentencing one to life in prison and the rest to sentences between 5 and 20 years for their roles in the failed Nov 24, 2000, attack and/or three bombings in Phnom Penh in 2001.

The court produced no evidence directly linking any of the accused to the November fighting that left at least four people dead, or to 2001 attacks against the Vietnamese Embassy, Funcinpec headquarters and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court has now convicted a total of 75 accused CFF members since the attack.

“All 20 accused CFF members showed clearly that they are guilty and received orders from their ringleader,” Judge Sok Sethamony said Thursday.

Authorities whisked the convicts onto a bus immediately after the verdict was announced and did not give them a chance to speak to reporters.

Several convicted CFF members shouted “injustice!” and de­nounced the court proceedings before they boarded the bus.

Puth Theavy, the lead defense attorney, said outside the courtroom after the verdict was delivered that the sentences were exceptionally heavy. He said he would file an appeal in the next few days.

Cambodian-American Sao Chum Gilbert was among those convicted of terrorism and membership in an armed group under Article 36 of Untac law and Articles 1 and 2 of Cambodian state law.

Arrested last Sept 8 when he stepped off a plane at Pochentong Airport, Sao Chum Gilbert was sentenced to 10 years for his alleged membership in the CFF.

The court accused Sao Gilbert of making “identification cards” and being a “computer expert” for the CFF. The court also accused Sao Chum Gilbert of working directly with self-confessed CFF leader Chhun Yasith, who was tried in absentia last June and sentenced to life in prison. Chhun Yasith resides in the US state of California.

“Although we cannot find evidence showing that [Sao Chum Gilbert] was a hit man, we have evidence showing that he is involved with the CFF,” Sok Sethamony said to a packed courtroom as he delivered the sentence.

The main evidence against Sao Chum Gilbert and the other alleged CFF members convicted was a computer list naming at least 200 suspected CFF members. The list was downloaded by authorities from convicted CFF member Richard Kiri Kim’s computer in November 2000 after they raided Kiri Kim’s residence in Phnom Penh.

An official from the US Embassy, who declined to be identified, said the embassy will closely monitor the Sao Chum Gilbert case. “The US [government] will keep looking into this, as we would for any American convicted of a crime in Cambodia,” the official said.

The official declined to comment on the judge’s ruling, saying it could affect the appeals process.

One international observer disputed the court’s findings against Sao Chum Gilbert and the other 18 defendants.

“The list itself is not illegal,” the international observer said. “The court gave no evidence showing that [Sao Chum Gilbert]—or any of the suspects—intended to attack the government.”

Noting there was no direct evidence linking the suspects to the scene of the Nov 24, 2000, attack or any of the subsequent attacks, the international observer said the court’s decision came as a surprise, as did the sentences.

“The sentences were especially harsh,” the international observer said.

UN spokeswoman Francesca Marotta said the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is concerned with the fairness of the trial, specifically with regards to the use of forced confessions as evidence. This trial is indicative of many trials in Cambodia and highlights the need for judicial reform, she said.

The court did not sentence accused CFF member Sok Thy, who also stood trial, because the court is searching for more evidence against him. He will be tried in one month.

Family members of the convicted expressed sorrow after they heard the court hand down verdicts. Soung Siphat, 48, the mother of convicted CFF member Khieu Radoeun—who was sentenced to serve eight years—said he has been greatly missed by his siblings.

In Phav, 64, the mother of convicted CFF member Chea Sok Sokhoeun—who was also sentenced to serve eight years—said she cried after hearing the judge’s sentence.

“Why is my son going to jail for eight years? He did nothing wrong,” she said.

The Battambang provincial court will begin the trial of 16 suspected CFF members on March 4.

 

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