Court Denies Appeal for Rights Worker in Death Threat Case

The Appeal Court on Friday upheld a Phnom Penh Municipal Court decision to throw out the case of an NGO staffer who claims his life was threatened by security guards working for property magnate Khun Sear at a disputed site in Tuol Kok district.

Vann Sophath, a land reform project coordinator with the Cam­bodian Center for Human Rights, said men wielding axes and cleav­ers threatened to kill him in May 2014 during his visit to the home of a family that had endured months of threats and intimidation after refusing to make way for a development project.

In a closed-door hearing on Friday—defense lawyer Choung Choungy said no witnesses were called and that the court referred only to the municipal court decision—Presiding Judge Nguon Im dismissed the case due to lack of evidence.

“We will not summon any more people because we have already finished [this case],” Judge Im said by telephone after the hearing. “I cannot tell you anything else because this is a closed-door hearing.”

Mr. Choungy, the lawyer for Mr. Sophath, said that the case had been flawed from the outset, claiming that the initial investigation following the rights worker’s complaint to the Phnom Penh Munici­pal Court had been improper.

“The investigating judge did not lead the investigation—he or­dered district police officers to search for the perpetrators, but they reported that they could not find them,” he said.

“The Appeal Court asked us to search for the suspects ourselves, but I told them: ‘How can we do that? We are just simple people.’”

Mr. Choungy said his client would take the case to the Su­preme Court in the hope that the security guards would be located and brought in for questioning.

The guards in question allegedly waged a two-year campaign of intimidation and violence against the family caught in a dispute with Mr. Sear—including throwing a bag of venomous cobras in­to a family’s home.

In April, the daughter of the family, 23-year-old Ly Seav Minh, was released from prison after five months in pretrial detention over charges of assaulting some of the security guards.

In June, Ms. Seav Minh, as well as her mother and father, were convicted of violence and handed six month suspended sentences.

Touch Chhay, a lawyer for the Khun Sear Company, said on Fri­day he was too busy to comment.

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