Verdict Criticized, Concerns Raised Over Election Official

A report released by the American Bar Association has slammed the recent trial of imprisoned senior election official Ny Chakrya, while further concerns were raised on Thursday about the neutrality of the National Election Committee if he were to be ousted.

When he was appointed as deputy secretary-general of the committee in January, Mr. Chakrya was touted as a counterbalance to the CPP’s leadership of the commission ahead of upcoming elections.

Those hopes for his role were quashed, however, when he was sentenced to six months in prison in September on defamation charges for comments he made last year denouncing a prosecutor and judge at the Siem Reap Provincial Court for imprisoning two farmers for illegally clearing land.

A trial observation report released on Wednesday by the U.S. lawyers’ association found that the proceedings against Mr. Chakrya “failed to satisfy international fair trial standards.” It raised numerous concerns, including that he was denied the presumption of innocence and the right to a “reasoned judgment.”

“In this case, after a fifteen minute recess, Judge Khy Chhai returned and found Mr. Chakrya guilty—with a fine of 6 million riel and 6 months in jail. He intimated that there is a general prohibition against criticism of courts in Cambodia,” the report says. “Judge Chhai did not provide a legal reasoning for his decision to convict Mr. Chakrya.”

Mr. Chakrya, also the former head of monitoring for rights group Adhoc, additionally faces charges related to the prosecution of deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha. Both cases are widely perceived to be politically motivated and appear to leave Mr. Chakrya’s role in the National Election Committee under serious threat.

Political analyst Ou Virak said that Mr. Chakrya’s inability to audit voter registration with “freedom, power and independence” would be a “huge loss.”

The ruling CPP still appeared, unsurprisingly, to be in “full control” of the NEC, he added.

Despite the NEC being overhauled as part of an agreement between the CPP and opposition CNRP in 2014 to be made more independent, “it was never designed to be independent anyway. In the end, because of the lack of detail after the negotiations, they only agreed in principle,” Mr. Virak said.

CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said the targeting of Mr. Chakrya was “a matter of great concern [as] he is a person of great integrity.”

“The ministry of justice has the duty to review all procedures for the trial. Ny Chakrya, like his colleagues and others who are politically targeted, have not received a fair trial,” Ms. Sochua said in an email.

“This is a question of principles. He should not be replaced. Another qualified candidate could also be politically targeted,” she added.

The NEC’s spokesman, Hang Puthea, remained tight-lipped on Thursday on whether Mr. Chakrya would be removed, saying he was waiting for the “decision of the courts.”

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the government had no interest in the bar association’s report, citing the “sovereignty of Cambodia.”

The removal of Mr. Chakrya would have no bearing on the neutrality of the NEC, he added.

“You have to understand that without one person, other people can still do it,” Mr. Eysan said.

(Additional reporting by Khuon Narim)

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