Concerns Mount Over Khmer Krom Rights in Treason Trial

Fears are mounting that Friday’s treason trial against seven ethnic Khmer and Khmer Krom men arrested in Thailand and spirited back to Cambodia last year will be a sham, an advocacy group warned Wednesday, citing a lack of evidence implicating the men.

The seven have been held for the past year in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison over charges of plotting to provide a foreign nation with the means to carry out hostile acts toward Cambodia, a charge that carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. Four of the men have also been accused of illegally crossing the border between Cambodia and Thailand.

Concerns over the trial were raised by Minority Rights Organization (MIRO), a group that defends Khmer Krom—or “lower Khmer”—ethnically Khmer people from the southern Mekong Delta region of Vietnam.

“MIRO claims that the arrest of the seven men has been unlawful,” the group said in a statement. “No weapons were found when they were taken into custody. What is more, they were neither informed about the reason for their arrest nor were they shown a warrant.”

MIRO said it believes that “repeated modification of the charges” from forming an armed terrorist group to delivering national defense equipment to a foreign state, to the present charges, “signify the lack of credible proof for an existing criminal offense.”

The group also said two of the men claim they were beaten and tortured while in police custody and fears that “information revealed under duress will be used as evidence against them.”

The two Khmer Krom men, Suon Phal, 53, and Yin Yav, 56, were arrested on March 8, 2013, in Thailand’s Pathum Thani province. Yorn Kimsrun, 28, Yorn Yoeub, 26, Theach Kongphuong, 38, and Khem Ma, 29, were arrested a week later in the same province.

When the men were arrested a year ago, National Police spokesman Lieutenant General Kirth Chantharith said police had evidence of the alleged crimes in the form of “documents related to the Khmer Salvation Front that includes the memorandum of the front and other documents of the front in order to conduct activities against the Royal Government of Cambodia.”

He said that the group was made known to police as an anti-government movement based in Thailand.

The Khmer Krom have historically been victims of human rights violations at the hands of the Vietnamese government, and have often sought refuge in nearby countries.

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