In a strongly worded statement yesterday, four international human rights groups urged the government to immediately release a local rights worker convicted for spreading “disinformation” critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the government.
Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organization Against Torture said Monday’s trial of 28-year-old Leang Sokchouen “was marked by numerous procedural flaws as well as violations of fair trial provisions in Cambodian and international law.”
“This conviction once again highlights the lack of independence and impartiality of the courts, which are all too often used as a tool against the less powerful, rather than to uphold their rights,” Donna Guest, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific deputy director, said in the statement.
Takeo Provincial Court on Monday sentenced Mr Sokchoeun, an administrative employee of local rights group Licadho, to two years in prison and fined him $500. Two members of the Khmer Krom minority-Thach Le, 61, and Thach Vannak, 31-received identical sentences. A fourth man, Buddhist monk Thach Kong Phuong, 34, was sentenced in absentia to the maximum three years in prison and fined roughly $1,500 for his role as mastermind of the group, which was found guilty of distributing disinformation on leaflets in Takeo province.
Local rights group Licahdo reiterated its criticism of the trial in a new statement yesterday, pointing to numerous deficiencies.
For example, the group said that while Mr Vannak initially told the police that Mr Sokchouen was involved in distributing fliers, he retracted part of his statement in court. “He claimed police promised him that he would be allowed to go back to his family in exchange for his cooperation,” the Licadho statement read.
Pung Chhiv Kek, president and founder of Licadho, said, “It’s clear that this case was decided from the outset, regardless of what was to be brought to trial.”
“On its face, it’s an absolutely appalling example of Cambodia’s politicized courts obedient to the executive,” Ms Chhiv Kek said in the Licadho statement.
Takeo Provincial Judge Cheng Bunly denied the accusations yesterday, saying the court made its decision independently.
“The verdict is not politically motivated at all, but the court found him guilty,” Judge Bunly said.
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for Licadho, said yesterday that a lawyer representing Mr Sokchouen has appealed his verdict.
Mr Sokchoeun, who fainted after his conviction was announced, has been at Takeo Provincial Hospital with dengue fever since Monday, he added.