A municipal court judge has convicted 56 people of participating in the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots.
Judge Tan Senarong on Monday downgraded charges filed against 54 of the 58 suspects from robbery to theft of items, including vegetables and gasoline, from ransacked buildings. Two suspects were acquitted of all charges, and all but two of the accused rioters, Faculty of Law student Ken Sara and Norton University student Thorn Veasna, were released from jail.
Supporters of the defendants thrust fists into the air as Tan Senarong announced that most of the suspects did not take part in the riots and had spent sufficient time in jail.
Um Sam An, former president of the Students’ Movement for Democracy, said the extended jail times for Ken Sara and Thorn Veasna were unlawful.
“We will write a letter to the King asking him to pardon Ken Sara and Thorn Veasna. Ken Sara was detained more than six months, which contradicts Article 21 of the Untac law,” he said.
The law states that suspects may be held in jail for up to six months while their cases are under investigation.
King Norodom Sihanouk issued a statement March 5 saying he would pardon any youths convicted of involvement in the riots. The King said he believed the accused were not responsible for the violence.
Thorn Veasna, 19, is scheduled for an October release after completing an eight-month sentence, including time served during pre-trial detention. He was charged with fomenting anti-Thai racism by disseminating vulgar artwork and songs disparaging a popular Thai actress, whose rumored claim that Angkor Wat belongs to Thailand helped spark the riots.
Ken Sara, 24, was found guilty of instigating racism, inciting violence and illegally demonstrating. He is due for a November release after serving the remainder of a nine-month jail sentence, which also includes time served during pre-trial detention.
Ken Sara was arrested and taken into custody Feb 6, a week after the riots took place. At the time, Ken Sara was running for a Faculty of Law student leadership post against Deputy Municipal Police Chief Heng Pov.
Tan Senarong said he could not punish Ken Sara with a longer sentence as police were unable to locate witnesses to Ken Sara’s crimes. But Ken Sara’s confession was proof enough to convict him under the Untac criminal law, the judge said.
During the trial two weeks ago, Ken Sara said he did not demonstrate but that he advised young activists to act in a controlled manner. The court determined that this behavior was a catalyst of the riots.
“I don’t want to accept the decision of the court because it’s not true,” Ken Sara said Monday, adding that he would appeal the case.
Dressed in a faded blue prison suit, Ken Sara said he was granted fewer privileges than most Prey Sar prisoners enjoy. He was not allowed to walk around the compound or visit with family and friends, he said.
In Bangkok Monday, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra would not say whether he was satisfied with the ruling, Agence France-Presse reported. But he said that the Thais “will look further into this topic. If [the Cambodians] cannot find the mastermind [behind the riots], we have to talk with them,” according to AFP.
Thaksin also reacted to government spokesman Khieu Kanharith’s accusation, made on Friday, that many Thai companies have inflated their compensation claims.
“[The Cambodians] said some private companies have asked for higher compensation than the actual value of the damage…. We want them to pay the compensation and bring the relation back to normal,” AFP quoted Thaksin as saying.