Extradition of Sok Yoeun Draws Fire

Thailand’s motion to extradite opposition activist Sok Yoeun to Cambodia, where he would face charges stemming from an attack on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s motorcade, is a violation of domestic and international laws, ac­cording to the human rights group Amnesty International.

“Sok Yoeun’s case is clearly highly political and normal judicial procedures have apparently not been followed,” the London-based group said in a statement Friday.

A Thai appeals court on Friday ordered an ailing Sok Yoeun to be repatriated to answer accusations that he was behind a rocket-propelled grenade attack that killed one bystander but left Hun Sen unharmed in Siem Reap town.

After the 1998 attack, Sok Yoeun fled to Thailand from his home in Battambang town. He was arrested by officials in Bang­kok in 1999, after Prime Minister Hun Sen accused Thailand of harboring terrorists.

Amnesty International raised suspicions about the legality of Friday’s hearing, noting that Sok Yoeun’s lawyer learned of the verdict from media outlets, which were informed of the decision by fax. The organization had earlier listed Sok Yoeun as a prisoner of conscience.

Sok Yoeun, who was reported by the Bangkok newspaper The Nation as suffering from heart problems and a failing memory, has been recognized as a political refugee by the UN High Com­missioner for Refugees. The paper quoted him as saying he misses his home in Battambang but wishes to seek asylum in a third country. The UNHCR has already resettled his family in Finland.

“The verdict is a rebuke to the UN and demonstrates Thailand’s disregard for decisions taken by [the ] UNHCR,” Amnesty Interna­tional stated.

Human rights officials in Cam­bodia on Sunday also decried the decision, arguing that the ongoing political deadlock and a corrupt justice system bode ill for political prisoners.

In June 2002, UN human rights envoy Peter Leuprecht expressed concern about the fairness of any trial due to the lack of an independent judiciary and warned that Sok Yoeun would be at significant risk of persecution.

Leuprecht, now conducting his 10th mission in Cambodia, said Sunday that he hoped the extradition does not take place. If it does, however, he will closely monitor whether a fair trial and basic criminal justice procedures are ob­served, said Saku Akmeemana, spokeswoman for the UN Office of the High Com­mis­sioner for Human Rights.

Kek Galabru, president of the human rights group Licadho, said the recent shooting of a pro-Funcinpec radio journalist and other attacks on opposition activists testify to Cambodia’s precarious state of human rights.

“It’s not really a good moment for Sok Yoeun to come back to Cambodia. We know he was accused by the Cambodian government as a terrorist. If he comes back, he will go immediately to jail,” she said.

Sam Rainsy Party members called the verdict politically motivated, predicting that new evidence linking the attack to the opposition party will be offered by the government to vilify its leader, Sam Rainsy.

Sok Yoeun’s home in Bat­tam­bang is the province’s first Sam Rainsy Party headquarters

“It’s most regrettable that the Thais, because of their interest in Cambodia, did this. The whole thing’s a joke. If the matter was not so serious, I would be laughing my head off,” Ung Bun-Ang, opposition party spokesman, said Sunday.

But CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith denied that the case was political and insisted all Sok Yoeun needs for a fair trial is a good lawyer.

“The CPP is not charging Sok Yoeun. The government is making the case,” he said.

 

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