Retired King Norodom Sihanouk has said the men sentenced to life in prison last week for alleged links to the regional Jemaah Islamiyah militant group were convicted without sufficient evidence and should be pardoned.
An alleged plot to attack the US and British embassies in Phnom Penh—for which Cambodian Cham Muslim Sman Esma El and Thai nationals Abdul Azi Haji Chiming and Muhammad Yalaludin Mading were convicted—was “imaginary,” the former king said.
“In condemning to prison for life of Cham Compatriots for an imaginary ‘terrorism,’ without any serious proof, it is to do an act of very cruel injustice,” he wrote Tuesday in a message on his Web site. “We reach this infernal condemnation in order to please certain great powers,” he added, apparently referring to the US and the UK.
“The Cambodia of [the Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime] would never have accepted to debase itself before great powers and before their MONEY,” he wrote. The “false terrorists,” he added, “deserve to be pardoned.”
The men were arrested in 2003, based on a US intelligence report.
Following the Dec 29 trial, the US and British embassies applauded the Municipal Court’s verdict, saying it was a victory in their war against terrorism. The case against the men relied on testimony from a witness who said he overheard two suspects plan a bomb attack on the embassies in English, though he admitted he did not speak English himself.
Kao Soupha, the lawyer for the two Thai nationals, welcomed Norodom Sihanouk’s comments Wednesday. “I agree 100 percent with the King’s idea,” he said. “There is no evidence to give them imprisonment for life.” He said he would launch an appeal on behalf of the three men this week.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith declined to comment on whether the government would heed the call to pardon the men. But, he said, “If the King has more evidence, I think it is better to bring the evidence to the court.” He denied that action was taken against the men to appease the US or any other country. “This is a neutral state,” Khieu Kanharith said. “We have nothing to do with the US.”