The government has appointed a lawyer to represent two Sam Rainsy Party members accused in a 1998 rocket attack and has refused to allow their party leaders access .
Until recently, Sam Rainsy had maintained that Mong Davuth and Kang Bun Heang were arrested to intimidate the opposition party, a charge the government has denied. Now party leaders say they are wondering whether the arrests were only the first step in a larger plan to discredit the party, and falsely implicate its leaders in the attack.
“We are very worried,” Eng Chhay Eang, the party’s secretary general, said. “Now we are wondering if the government wants to use them for some trick or tactic. The party is now wondering whether they are real members of the Sam Rainsy Party, or actors who will collude with government and authorities who want to use them against the Sam Rainsy Party.”
Mong Davuth and Kang Bun Heang were arrested clandestinely last month by military police for allegedly participating in a Sept 24, 1998 rocket attack, which narrowly missed a convoy that included Hun Sen and newly-elected lawmakers, including Funcinpec President Norodom Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy. A bystander was killed.
Nou Chantha, the newly appointed investigative judge on the case, said Thursday that the two were charged with attempted murder. He said, “I am searching for the real facts, and promise to bring justice to the people.”
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith referred questions on the current status of the case to the military court officials.
Calls to the prosecutor on the case were not returned, and two reporters’ attempts to visit the suspects and the prosecutor at the Phnom Penh military court were rebuffed by armed soldiers.
Put Theavy, who the government appointed to the case Sept 19, confirmed that opposition party members had been denied access to his clients, adding they are being held in the same prison as former rebel chief Ta Mok. He also said they have not been allowed to see their families.
Put Theavy said he is optimistic that the names of his clients will soon be cleared, and they will be free. He claims they were accused by a fellow party member, who provided false testimony to the government.
“Only one person provoked the government case” because of an “internal [Sam Rainsy Party] dispute,” Put Theavy said. “The government is not making the accusation; it’s their internal dispute.”
“I am 60 percent certain that these two will be free of charges, as I recently could find no evidence after interviewing five or six witnesses,” Put Theavy said, adding that one of the suspects has never been to Siem Reap, where the attack occurred. “The two were accused by a military official I’m not going to mention right now,” he said.
Phi Thach, Sam Rainsy Party cabinet chief, did not rule out the possibility that the two suspects were arrested based on false testimony given by another party member. He said he was skeptical of the government-appointed attorney. “I doubt the fairness and independence of the lawyer because they are chosen by the military of the government and they will play against the Sam Rainsy Party,” he said. “We are very concerned because we don’t know their whereabouts and we have not been able to visit them and advise them of their rights.”
Thun Saray, director of Adhoc, said it is illegal to prevent prisoners from seeing their families. In addition, he said, prisoners have a right to choose their own attorney. “This kind of thing…is very bad for the opposition party, and for the Constitution.”