For Wife of Cheam Channy, It’s 30-Minute Visits and Heartache

On Thursdays and Saturdays, Chum Sieng Leng makes her way to the military prison where her husband, opposition lawmaker Cheam Channy, is held, to pay a 30-minute visit.

She takes his 12-year-old daugh­­ter from a previous marriage, Kim Channa, to the compound where Cheam Channy sleeps in what his wife says is a 3-meter by 4-meter con­crete cell.

There is no window, but light spills in through a small hole near the roof, and for about the last three months of his detention, he has been able to sleep in a bed, she said in a Thursday interview at Cheam Channy’s former office inside the Sam Rainsy Party head­quarters.

“The room has no paint, just the color of concrete and ce­ment,” she said, adding that at night the cell is lit by a single na­ked bulb, which the prison turns off at 10 pm.

Cheam Channy is allowed to read romantic novels and magazines but is barred from reading newspapers or listening to the ra­dio, she said.

“I feel great pity for the way he is living,” she said.

“The sight of his living room burns my heart.”

On Tuesday, the Military Court sentenced Cheam Channy to seven years in prison for fraud and organizing an illegal armed force, after a trial that many ob­servers said did not meet adequate standards.

The US State Department, Am­nesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Cam­bodian Human Rights Action Commit­tee—an umbrella group of hu­man rights NGOs—have all condemned the proceedings.

Chum Sieng Leng, who married Cheam Channy in Kompong Cham province in 2001, condemned the proceedings as well.

Each month, the 25-year-old now spends $150 hiring people inside the prison to cook for her hus­­band.

“The food is not really different from home. He asks the cook to do it for him,” she said.

Cheam Channy was jailed on Feb 3, the same day that opposition leader Sam Rainsy fled the country.

Three days later, Chum Sieng Leng brought Cheam Channy a pillow and mattress, and three months later, the prison gave him a bed and a fan.

In her incarcerated husband’s office, a white board is attached to the wall, detailing the structure of “­Committee #14,” the shadow cabinet that the government says is an illegal armed force.

Opposition party flags stand next to Cambodian flags, and framed images of Sam Rainsy and his wife Tioulong Saumura, hang from the wall.

On the news that Cheam Chan­ny had been sentenced, Sam Rainsy announced in a Tues­day e-mail that he would be returning to Cambodia in mid-September.

“Now we can better assess the situation and our priorities after [Tuesday’s] verdict, I can fix a date for my return,” Sam Rainsy wrote.

“We will do our utmost so that Cheam Channy will not be in jail for long,” he added.

In a Wednesday statement, Am­­nesty International blasted Cheam Channy’s sentencing.

“This travesty of justice is a clear attempt to stifle political op­position in Cambodia and to curtail freedom of expression and as­sociation. Cheam Channy should be immediately and unconditionally released,” Am­nesty Inter­national said, adding: “This is not the first time that government op­ponents have been ac­cused of posing a military threat seemingly without basis.”

Amnesty International added that Khom Piseth, a former opposition party member who was sen­tenced to five years in absentia Tuesday on the same charges as Cheam Channy, has been grant­­ed refugee status and was re­settled to a third country in May.

On Thursday, Canadian Am­bassador Donica Pottie, who attended the trial, said she was concerned about the way it was conducted.

Cheam Channy’s lawyer “was cut off in the midst of his effort to elicit testimony from Cheam Chan­ny himself, and I was concerned they weren’t able to question [four] witnesses, and could not call witnesses for the de­fense,” Pottie said.

Officials from the British and French Embassies declined comment Thursday, while the Aus­tralian Embassy did not return phone calls.

Chum Sieng Leng said she is writing to King Norodom Siham­oni, retired King Norodom Siha­nouk, Prime Minister Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Rana­rid­dh to ask for amnesty.

In the meantime, she said, she is trying to keep up her husband’s morale.

He no longer wants to hear the news or read newspapers, as he finds them depressing, Chum Sieng Leng said.

During visits, “I try to encourage him, support him,” she said. “He never complains to me, and I never tell him bad things. Just good news.”

 

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