The US State Department has condemned Tuesday’s conviction of opposition lawmaker Cheam Channy for fraud and forming a illegal armed force, saying the conduct of the trial constituted intimidation of the opposition.
Cheam Channy was sentenced to seven years in prison after a Monday trial that many observers said did not meet adequate standards.
“The conduct of the trial appears to violate international standards, raises again questions about the competence and independence of Cambodia’s judiciary and constitutes further intimidation of opposition voices,” the State Department said in a statement received Wednesday.
The State Department also called on the National Assembly to immediately restore the parliamentary immunity of the three opposition parliamentarians that was stripped on Feb 3.
Cheam Channy, Sam Rainsy and Chea Poch were stripped of their immunity. Sam Rainsy and Chea Poch remain outside the country.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith on Wednesday responded to a previous statement by the US Embassy condemning the verdict.
“The statement…is more political than technical,” Khieu Kanharith said, adding that the US should point out specific flaws in the trial if it believes the proceedings were politically motivated.
“The best way to help Cheam Channy is to point out what are the flaws,” Khieu Kanharith said.
In an e-mail Tuesday, opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he would be returning to Cambodia mid-September.
“Now that we can better assess the situation and our priorities after [Tuesday’s] verdict, I can fix a date for my return,” Sam Rainsy said.
“We will do our utmost so that Cheam Channy will not be in jail for long,” Sam Rainsy added. “This is not the first time we are facing a storm and we have always re-emerged stronger after any storm,” he said.
Khieu Kanharith said he had no information on Sam Rainsy’s return.
“Sometimes [Sam Rainsy] says a lot but when he acts it’s different. Wait and see,” Khieu Kanharith said.
Mu Sochua, former Minister of Women’s Affairs and now an opposition party member, said she met Wednesday with officials from the embassies of France and Britain, to express concerns about the trial.
Also Wednesday, cracks began to emerge in the identity of Long Sary, who was a key prosecution witness at Monday’s trial. Long Sary said that Cheam Channy had used him to recruit 40,000 troops for the so-called illegal armed force.
In testimony to an investigating judge at the Military Court on Aug 17, 2004, Long Sary gave his age as 47, while in testimony on July 7, 2005, he said he was 50, according to military court documents.
In his first testimony, he said he was married to Veang Dany, while in his second, he named his wife as Kuy Srei Mom.
Long Sary also said in his first testimony that he was born in southern Vietnam, while in the second, he said he was born in Kandal province.
In the first testimony, he also said he had recruited just 300 troops for the illegal army, while in the second this figure shot up to 40,000.
Investigating Judge Pork Porn signed both testimonies.
Thach Vang, who said in court on Monday that he had recruited 1,800 people for the illegal armed force, also gave contradictory information about himself in previous testimony, military court documents show.
In Aug 17, 2004, testimony, he told Pork Porn that he was 38, while in July 8, 2005, testimony, he said he was 42, according to the documents.
In the second testimony, he said he joined a committee of the Sam Rainsy Party in 1994, where he served as a chief of the shadow army’s division 52.
The Sam Rainsy Party had not been established at that time.