donkeo city, Takeo province – Apparently overcome by grief, a Cambodian human rights worker fainted in Takeo Provincial Court yesterday, after a judge sentenced him to two years jail for disseminating “disinformation” critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the CPP government.
Leang Sokchouen, 28, an administrative employee with the human rights organization Licadho, was found guilty of disinformation with two members of the Khmer Krom social minotiry–Thach Le, 61 and Thach Vannak, 31–who received the same sentence, which included a roughly $500 fine.
Unlike Mr Sokchouen, the two men were not represented by lawyers at trial.
A third man, Buddhist monk Thach Kong Phuong, 34, was sentenced in absentia to the maximum three-years prison and fined roughly $1,500 for his role as the mastermind of the group convicted of distributing disinformation on leaflets on four occasions in Takeo province between November and April.
Mr Sokchouen’s colleagues and family members decried the ruling outside the court yesterday and vowed to appeal.
Takeo Provincial Court Judge Cheng Bunly said the men had been found guilty because the leaflets they organized to distribute were critical of government leaders’ and Royal Family members’ relationships with Vietnam.
“We believe that Thach Le, Thach Vannak and Leang Sokchouen held relationships in distributing the leaflets,” Judge Bunly said. “This act is damaging the government leaders’ reputations and dignity.”
Under the transitional penal code of 1992, which remains in effect, disinformation is defined as the malicious distribution of false information likely to cause public disorder.
Licadho on Sunday denounced the court’s investigation of Mr Sokchouen, saying it had been riddle with procedural irregularities and misinformation.
After Judge Bunly announced his verdict, Mr Sokchouen fell to the floor unconscious, while his fellow defendants broke into tears as prison guards marched them in handcuffs to a car waiting to take them to Takeo Provincial Prison, about 50 meters away.
As colleagues carried Mr Sokchouen’s slumped form to a bench outside the court to wait for an ambulance, his mother Hong Chheng and aunt Hong Kimheang followed, crying.
Ms Kimheang appealed to Mr Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany for help. “It is very unjust,” Ms Kimheang said, as she sobbed. “Please Samdech Hun Sen and Chumteav Bun Rany, help us.”
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for Licadho, denounced the verdict outside the court, saying there was no evidence to show that Mr Sokchouen was involved in distributing the leaflets.
“It is unacceptable….. It is an unfounded charge and we deem this verdict as unjust,” Mr Sam Ath said. “We will appeal the decision to the Court of Appeal.”
Licadho alleges a number of discrepancies in the case investigation, including the use of incorrect information regarding Mr Sokchouen’s identity.
The rights group claims that the court’s investigative report contained evidence from a wiretap of a telephone used by a man known as “Mr Leang Sokly,” a Vietnamese national living in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district.
Mr Sokchouen, however, is a Cambodian national who lived in the capital’s Sen Sok district prior to his arrest on May 29, according to Licadho.
Mr Sam Ath said that the court used telephone conversations Mr Sokchouen had with Mr Kong Phuong, a friend he met at university in Phnom Penh in 2005, as a pretext for the charges.
Mr Sokchouen’s lawyer Ham Sunrith said his client had only been to Takeo province once during the period that the alleged crimes took place-to pray to his ancestors in April-but had never distributed any leaflets.
“My client is innocent, and the authorities have arrested the wrong person, Mr Sunrith said.
Before yesterday’s trial, Mr Sokchouen told reporters that he was not involved in the distribution of the leaflets.
“I have never been involved in distributing the leaflets…. I am Cambodian and I have never done anything against the government,” Mr Sokchouen said.
Last night, Licadho’s Mr Sam Ath said Mr Sokchouen was conscious and being kept under observation at Takeo Provincial Hospital.