Cambodian officials are looking into reports that three Cambodian nationals have been sentenced to death for drug smuggling in Vietnam.
Foreign Ministry officials said Monday that if the reports are true, they would mark the first time that Cambodian nationals have been sentenced to be executed, and could spur a protest.
“Our Constitution prohibits the death sentence and Cambodia must protect the interests of its nationals around the world,” said Saing Lapresse, an undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “For me personally we must look for more information to see what we should do to meet and respect our own Constitution.”
According to a Reuters report last Thursday, Cambodian nationals Chuon Oy, Seng Bunsy and Chin The Chung were facing a possible death sentence in a Ho Chi Minh court after being charged with trafficking heroin from Cambodia to Vietnam. The three Cambodians were allegedly part of a 13-member gang arrested last May with 19 kgs of heroin destined for Vietnam’s domestic drug market.
Citing Vietnamese government news accounts, the Khmer-language newspaper Koh Santepheap (Island of Peace) reported Monday that the three Cambodians and two Vietnamese members of the gang were given the death penalty Saturday while prison sentences of 25 years and 30 years were handed down to two other gang members.
Khieu Sopheak, Interior Ministry spokesman and deputy secretary general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, said Monday he was aware of the trial but had not been officially informed of the outcome of the case.
He said it is the responsibility of the Vietnamese embassy to inform the Cambodian government of a trial involving its nationals and the sentences passed by the courts, neither of which they had done.
“If they are to be executed in Vietnam the [Vietnamese embassy] needs to file a full report,” said Khieu Sopheak, noting the same procedure exists in both Malaysia and Singapore which also have the death sentence for drug smugglers.
Khieu Sopheak also said the sentence should not be carried out until a full investigation into the drug trafficking activities of the three was carried out in Cambodia.
“Drug trafficking has a system that we must investigate….Executing the three will not end drug trafficking in Vietnam or Cambodia,” said Khieu Sopheak.
Chu Dong Loc, spokesman for the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh, confirmed Monday that a number of Cambodians had been tried in Ho Chi Minh City People’s Court.
He said he could not confirm reports that the three had received death sentences, but added it was mandatory in Vietnam to hand down the death sentence for heroin smuggling.
“Any foreigner who violates this should be tried in accordance with Vietnamese law. This is our principle,” he said.
Saing Lapresse and Chum Sounry, a Foreign Affairs ministry spokesman, said Monday the government was awaiting notification from authorities in Vietnam.