Opposition Calls Trial a Sham, Says No Point to Appeal as Court Decisions are Predetermined. According to the Law, Mr Rainsy Will Lose His Lawmaker Status
Svay Rieng City – At a brisk pace and out of the public’s eye, the Svay Rieng Provincial Court found opposition leader Sam Rainsy and two villagers guilty yesterday, handling down prison terms and more than 60 million riel in fines.
Charged with inciting racial discrimination and damaging public property, Mr Rainsy was sentence in absentia to 2 years in prison and ordered to pay 8 million riel, about $2,000, in fines, according to court prosecutor Keo Sothea.
Charged with destruction of property for taking part in Mr Rainsy’s removal of the border markers, villagers Prum Chea, 41, and Meas Srey, 39, were each given 1-year prison terms and a combined fee of 5 million riel, or about $1,250 riel, to be divided with Mr Rainsy.
Judge Korm Chhean also ordered the trio to pay a total of 50 million riel, roughly $12,500, for uprooting six wooden stakes at a temporary boarder marking along the frontier in the province’s Samraong commune, Chantrea district.
The judge reached his decision roughly six and a half hours in the first day of the trial.
The court acquitted three other villagers-Neang Phally, 39, Prak Chea, 28, and Prak Koen, 38-who went into hiding after they were charged along with Mr Prum Chea and Ms Srey. Those present during the court’s proceeding claimed the judge said there was no witnesses or evidence linking the three to the crimes.
Police barred journalists along with family members of the two villagers from entering the court, which was closed off by police officers.
Provincial deputy police chief Prak Cham claimed that the court was too small to accommodate spectators, obliging him to only allow those carrying letters formally inviting them to the trial.
Officers from several police forces kept a watchful eye on reporters as they stood outside the courthouse, occasionally photographing them and recording the reporters’ interviews with their own recording devices. Provincial Immigration police also demanded to see and then photographed the passport and Cambodian media pass of the only Western journalist in attendance.
Sam Sokong, an attorney with the legal aid NGO Cambodian Defenders Project and who represented the five accused villagers, said the court did not present enough evidence to find Mr Chea and Ms Srey guilty of any crime.
“I can not accept the provincial court’s decision for Meas Srey and Prum Chea,” he said.
“The hearing should be public, everyone can attend the hearing of the case. And today’s hearing violates the rule of law,” Mr Sokong said of the closed-door trial.
Judge Chhean was unavailable for comment following the trial.
Chantrea district Governor Chea Yieng, who first brought the charges against Mr Rainsy, declined to comment on the court process but said the verdict and sentence was reasonable.
“I think the court decision is right,” he said.
SRP spokesman and lawmaker Yim Sovann said the sentences were a clear example of the judicial system trying to muzzle the opposition and frighten those who speak out against the government.
“It is not a court trial, it is a theater,” Mr Sovann said, adding the opposition party would not appeal the decision since it considered the outcome of any court to be predetermined.
Now with a criminal conviction, Mr Rainsy can no longer legally retain his seat in parliament, though Mr Sovann said the party would continue to back him as party leader and not replace him.
Officials in Svay Rieng first accused Mr Rainsy of criticizing Cambodian and Vietnamese authorities during a Kathen ceremony in Samraong commune on Oct 25, when the lawmaker met with farmers there who were upset over the placement of temporary border marking on their rice fields, which they viewed as encroachment on their lands by Vietnamese authorities.
Although Mr Rainsy first denied removing the posts from the ground, Mr Rainsy later claimed sole responsibility and told the court to discontinue any legal action against the villagers who accompanied him to the border demarcation area.
Mr Rainsy left Cambodia late last year and remained abroad yesterday and has stated he will not return to Cambodia until the government release those jailed in land dispute cases and return back their property.
Chhoun Chong Ngy, Mr Rainsy’s attorney, declined requests for an interview and left the Svay Rieng courthouse before the verdict was announced. He could not be reached by telephone following the end of the trial.
Choeung Sarim, the wife of the jailed villager Mr Prum Chea, said a commune official had told her that her husband would be released and for that reason she did not understand why he was found guilty yesterday. She added she requested Mr Sokong to appeal and that her family depends on Mr Prum Chea as the breadwinner.
“I live based on my husband, he feeds the children,” she said as her mother-in-law wiped away tears. “How can I live without him?”