The Sam Rainsy Party yesterday denounced the speedy conviction of a World Food Program security guard for distributing anti-government leaflets, while Phnom Penh Municipal Court officials defended the trial.
The SRP’s criticism came amid concern from rights groups about the new penal code under which the WFP employee was charged, and about the rapidity of the trial itself.
Seng Kunakar was arrested Friday, then tried and convicted Sunday morning of incitement to commit a felony under article 495 of the new penal code. He was given the minimum punishment of six months in prison and a fine of 1 million riel, or about $250.
According to court officials, Mr Kunakar had printed seven copies of a leaflet from the opposition-aligned website KI-Media that accuses Prime Minister Hun Sen and other government leaders of ceding land to Vietnam.
SRP spokesman Yim Sovann claimed yesterday that the conviction was an attempt to intimidate anyone who might speak out against the government’s demarcation of the border with Vietnam, which has long been criticized by the SRP.
Mr Kunakar “has the right to disseminate all the information related to the national interest, especially border encroachment,” Mr Sovann said.
“This is against democratic principles, and it’s a serious human rights violation, and so we appeal to the government to release Mr Kunakar as soon as possible,” he said.
Court President Chiv Keng brushed aside these claims.
“The opposition and NGOs have always said cases are involved with politics when the court tries their members, and as in this case it is not true,” Mr Keng said. “The court conducts trials based on the rule of law, and for this case the court conducted the trial based on the new penal code. They are uneducated about the law.”
Judge Kor Vanndy said that speedy trials are lawful if a suspect accused of a felony is caught red-handed.
“It is not wrong at all, and the court considered the case before it issued a verdict,” Mr Vanndy said, adding that Mr Kunakar had confessed to sharing leaflets with friends. “The court found him guilty of incitement because he shared copies of this leaflet to commit violence against government leaders.”
In a Dec 9 statement, rights group Licadho said article 495 was one of nine provisions in the new penal code that “may pose a serious threat to Cambodians’ expressive rights in the future.”
The group cited the article’s vague definition, which includes incitement of “serious turmoil in society.”
Licadho consultant Mathieu Pellerin said yesterday that the Code of Criminal Procedure allows for these “unusually speedy trials,” which go against the “principle of having a fair defense.”
“We’ve already taken note of several speedy convictions and rushed trials using these procedures,” Mr Pellerin said, citing the June 2009 conviction of Boeng Kak activist Suon Sophorn and the November 2009 conviction of journalist Ros Sokhet.
Asked if the WFP would take any action in regard to Mr Kunakar’s conviction, WFP Country Director Jean-Pierre de Margerie said in an e-mail late yesterday that the WFP was “still trying to clarify some facts and is conducting more internal consultation for [the] time being.”
He added that the WFP is a “purely humanitarian and nonpolitical organization.”
Mr de Margerie also said that Mr Kunakar had hired his own lawyer, Chou Sokheng. Mr Sokheng could not be reached for comment yesterday.
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