Human rights groups in Malaysia have condemned the country’s handover of former Phnom Penh police chief Heng Pov to Cambodia on Thursday, charging that it violated his rights to due process and asylum.
The surprise deportation of Heng Pov showed that “the Malaysian government…has failed to respect the asylum process and continues to disregard international customary laws and principles,” Amnesty International’s Malaysia chapter said in a statement received late Friday.
Malaysia’s Federal Court, the country’s highest judicial authority, was thrown into confusion Thursday when Malaysian immigration authorities announced that Cambodia had already repatriated Heng Pov before his lawyers had exhausted the appeals process.
“AI-Malaysia believes that everyone has a right to seek asylum and should have the right to due process in its adjudication,” the Amnesty International statement said. “AI-Malaysia is of the view that the right to life of Heng Pov must be respected and that he should have been allowed to seek asylum.”
On his arrival by private jet in Phnom Penh on Thursday, Heng Pov was briefly questioned at the municipal court before being jailed to serve an 18-year sentence for killing a judge.
The Malaysian rights group Suaram on Friday also condemned the “lightning” hand-over of Heng Pov to Cambodian authorities, saying it suggested that Malaysia had succumbed to political pressure, Agence France-Presse reported.
N Sivananthan, a lawyer for Heng Pov while he was in Malaysia, and Heng Pov’s wife, Ngin Sotheavy, accused Malaysian authorities Thursday of acquiescing with Cambodian authorities in order to short-circuit the appeals process and bundle Heng Pov back to Phnom Penh.
Malaysian Embassy officials in Phnom Penh have been unreachable since Thursday, but Cambodian officials have denied allegations of wrongdoing.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said that he intended to ask the Appeals Court to call Heng Pov as a witness in the case of Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun (no relation to the executive director) who were convicted of the 2004 murder of trade unionist Chea Vichea.
Both men were convicted in 2005 following an investigation headed by Heng Pov. While on the run in July, Heng Pov said the pair were framed for the union leader’s high-profile killing.
“He made statements that both of them are not the real perpetrators,” Sok Sam Oeun said. “We will ask the court to allow Heng Pov to testify.”
Appeals Court judge Saly Theara, who in October delayed an appeal hearing for the two men due to a case of diarrhea, declined to comment.
Sok Sam Oeun also said that the actions of Malaysian authorities in the stealthy return of Heng Pov to Phnom Penh were not a surprise.
“I am not surprised for Asian countries…sometimes in Asia we decide not by law but by political pressure,” he said.
“In the end, they gave the power to the executive,” Sok Sam Oeun added.
Phnom Penh Municipal Deputy Chief Prosecutor Kim Ravy said that Heng Pov’s brief court appearance Thursday was the beginning of his appeal against his conviction for killing Judge Sok Sethamony in 2003.
“He appealed on Thursday,” Kim Ravy said. “He asked for Som Chandyna to be his lawyer, but I have not seen an application from him yet,” he added.
Som Chandyna, who has represented SRP clients including party leader Sam Rainsy, said Sunday that he was too busy to take on Heng Pov’s case.
“I don’t want to accept a job I don’t have time to do well,” he said.
Mong Kim Heng, director of Prey Sar Prison, said that Heng Pov was adjusting to life in prison, in good health and was not being mistreated.
“He is alone in his cell,” Mong Kim Heng said.