kompong cham town – Ung Muy Heang says she doesn’t know anything about politics or opposition politician Sam Rainsy.
All she knows is that her daughter rented the second floor of their house to the Sam Rainsy Party. And the next thing she knew, her house was shot at and her son was swiftly arrested and sentenced to a year in jail.
“All I want is for my child to be released,” the 59-year-old O’Reang-Ou district resident said here Wednesday. “I don’t know why he was arrested. I just want him to come back and to go back to school.”
Police arrested Ung Muy Heang’s son, 22-year-old Lim Pheng, last week after they came to the family home to investigate the shooting of the Sam Rainsy Party sign on the house wall. Four days later, he was convicted and sentenced to a year in prison for illegal possession of a weapon.
Human rights workers investigating the case have called it a classic case of political intimidation, saying Lim Pheng was arrested without a warrant and tried without a defense after his family complained about an attack on an opposition party sign.
However, Kompong Cham court officials on Wednesday denied political motivation, saying the facts speak for themselves.
“We do not care about the support of any political party. In this case, police confiscated a gun and the person was arrested,” said Kompong Cham Chief Prosecutor Uk Touch.
Provincial Judge Duch Chantha also denied any bias by the judiciary, which has repeatedly come under fire from human rights and legal groups for allegedly being subservient to the CPP-dominated government.
“The court is not under the control of or serving any political parties,” Duch Chantha said. “If you talk about political motivations, I have no time to talk with you.”
He also said Lim Pheng waived his right to legal counsel.
“In fact, we asked him to find a lawyer, but he refused,” the judge said. “He said that he could defend himself in the trial.”
However, a human rights worker who talked to Lim Pheng in prison Wednesday said he had a different version of the trial.
“He said that when he was brought to court, he was asked if he wanted a lawyer. He said ‘I am alone. I want my mother.’ They told him his mother had gone and he could leave the room now,” the rights worker said. “He came back 10 minutes later and they gave him the sentence.”
A second human rights worker said Wednesday that the shooting and arrest so soon after setting up an opposition party sign in the CPP-dominated district points clearly to political intimidation.
“It seems to be giving a signal—if you rent your house to a wrong person, this will happen to you,” he said.
In fact, Ung Muy Heang said that the family is not involved in the Sam Rainsy Party but that her daughter rented the second floor to a party representative who offered $60 a month—too good a price to turn down.
She added she hasn’t decided whether to take down the party sign, saying she is too busy worrying about her son.
“I never thought trouble would come to my family. I always tell my children not to get involved in politics at all.”