Amnesty International expressed concern Tuesday over the 15-month detention of four men held on charges of terrorism and on “the failure of the Cambodian judiciary to conform to international fair trial standards in this case.”
Two Thais, an Egyptian and a Cambodian Cham Muslim—arrested in late May and early June 2003—have been accused by authorities of involvement with the Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist organization.
But the case against them has been marred by pre-trial detention far exceeding the six months allowed by Cambodian law, court room irregularities, an adviser to the premier giving reporters assurances of the suspects’ guilt and an investigating judge saying that there was no incriminating evidence.
The London-based rights group said in its statement that it took no position on the suspects’ guilt or innocence, but decried “their continuing unlawful detention and political pressure for their conviction.”
A police official who worked on the investigation said last week that the Cambodian authorities never had any evidence against the suspects; rather, they had arrested them at the urging of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The official, who requested anonymity, said that the US’ list of suspects detailed terrorism-related activities committed in other countries, “but when we arrest them we cannot find any evidence.”
The official also said he sat in on FBI interrogations, in which the suspects consistently pleaded their innocence.
Amnesty International also commented on US “experts” being allowed to question the suspects. It said, “The defendants reported being verbally threatened by the interrogators.”
US Embassy spokeswoman Heide Bronke declined to immediately comment on that allegation Tuesday.
Amnesty International condemned the case’s handling, saying: “Heavy-handed and arbitrary treatment of ‘terrorist’ suspects only serves to alienate the Muslim community in Cambodia and risks being counterproductive, if the object is to prevent Cambodia becoming a haven for terrorists.”
But the group did note that an inadequate anti-terrorism law is believed by some to have hindered the prosecution. Graham Shaw of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, which is helping the Cambodian government draft a new anti-terrorism law, said Tuesday he did not know how the current legislation had affected the Jemaah Islamiyah case, but efforts to flesh it out were well underway.
The case’s current investigating judge, Buning Bunnary, said Tuesday that a new trial date is not yet set.