Four accused leaders of the so-called Tiger Head Movement, which is said to have planted bombs around Phnom Penh in 2009, received double-digit prison sentences yesterday from a Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge, while a fifth man was acquitted for lack of evidence.
Som Ek, the 49-year-old suspected ringleader, was sentenced to 28 years in prison for planting explosives in public places as well as recruiting and training terrorists. Loek Bunnhean, 49, Pov Vannara, 57, and Chea Kimyan, 45, each received 20-year sentences for the same charges. Phy Saving, 49, was acquitted.
The suspects were arrested in January 2009 after small bombs were discovered near the Defense Ministry and the TV3 television studio.
Despite the four men continually denying involvement in the bomb plot, Presiding Judge Din Sivuthy said in his verdict that the men’s “actions scared the public and threatened the security of citizens and the country.”
Judge Sivuthy said he acquitted Mr Saving because he believed the defendant did not have sufficient contact with the ringleader, Mr Ek, to have been involved.
According to court records, a handwritten note detailing plans to kill Prime Minister Hun Sen was found by police in Mr Bunnhean’s room. Mr Bunnhean denied writing the note, but said he was spying on the Tiger Head Movement for the Ministry of Defense. Another man testified during the September trial that he wrote the assassination plan in a notebook and not Mr Bunnhean.
Another witness said she worked with Mr Bunnhean, but had no knowledge of his involvement in the Tiger Head Movement.
At the end of the trial two weeks ago, deputy prosecutor Hing Bunchea said that despite the two witnesses’ testimony, he believed he had enough evidence to convict the group.
Mr Ek was arrested after police found bomb-making materials in his home. Mr Ek maintained they were for making fireworks.
When the verdict was read yesterday, the wives of the four convicted men burst into tears and shouted that justice was not served.
“Please kill me and kill my children, because to live we depend on my husband,” said Muk Nary, the wife of Mr Bunnhean. “Now we have no one to depend on.”
“I worked for the nation for many years. Why are they killing me?” Mr Bunnhean asked after the hearing. “Please national organizations and NGOs, help me to find justice.”
Mr Ek’s attorney, Sam Sokong, said his client created the Tiger Head Movement with the intent of founding a new political party. He said that he would appeal the verdict.
The Tiger Head Movement case initially went to trial in December 2009, but was sent back to an investigating judge for lack of evidence. The five individuals were again tried on Sept 17.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said the practice of sending a case back to an investigative judge is legal, but causes people to lose confidence in the legal system.
“In our system, the presumption of innocence does not exist,” he said. “There is only a presumption of guilt.”
(Additional reporting by Drew Foster)