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Adhoc activist returns to Ratanakkiri

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Rights activist Pen Bonnar, who was forced to leave Ratanakkiri province last year to avoid arrest on charges of incitement, is pictured at his office in Phnom Penh in this file photo.

WE HAVE ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO PROTECT BONNAR AGAINST THE INCITEMENT CHARGE.

A HUMAN rights activist from local rights group Adhoc has returned to his post in Ratanakkiri despite criminal charges pending against him, claiming he has enough evidence to prove his innocence.

Pen Bonnar was the Adhoc provincial coordinator until July, when he was removed from his position and sent to Phnom Penh to avoid incitement charges in connection with a November 2007 land dispute. He returned to his former post on Friday, however, remaining defiant about the case against him.

“I don’t feel worried or concerned at all about the legal charges because I am innocent,” he said, noting that the UN and other civic groups have already spoken out on his behalf.

“My lawyer and I will be present at the court for interrogation if the court issues another summons, and we would like to have Investigating Judge Thor Saron removed,” Pen Bonnar said, adding that the judge had been “biased from the start, without concrete evidence or reason to back up the charges”.

Thor Saron said Monday that the investigation against Pen Bonnar has faced delays in the past few months but remains ongoing.

“According to court procedure, Pen Bonnar must show up at the court for interrogation over the charges, and if the investigating judge determines that the suspect was involved in incitement or causing insecurity, we have the right to detain him,” Thor Saron said.

“If he is innocent, we will drop the charges against him – all of this is up to the investigating judge.”

Adhoc President Thun Saray said his organisation had sent Pen Bonnar back to Ratanakkiri on a temporary basis, pending the recovery of erstwhile provincial coordinator Sam Sarin, who is ill. Adhoc stands ready to support Pen Bonnar in court, Thun Saray added.

“We have enough evidence to protect Bonnar against the incitement charge, in our opinion,” the Adhoc president said, declining to elaborate on the nature of this evidence.

Thor Saron said in September that Pen Bonnar and Radio Free Asia journalist Ratha Visal could face disinformation charges for accusing him of corruption.

In October, Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana said Thor Saron could be investigated for ethics violations in connection with his use of a truck that had been confiscated as evidence in a murder trial.

Ratanakkiri provincial police Deputy Chief Phen Dina said Pen Bonnar must be careful not to run afoul of the law in his newest stint in the province.

“In my opinion, it is a positive sign that the human rights activist is coming back to do something legal that we support, but he mustn’t do any work that causes anarchy or disorder,” Phen Dina said.

Thun Saray said Adhoc hoped to resolve the issue without further controversy.

“We would like to settle this quietly. We don’t want to have this problem anymore,” Thun Saray said. “But if the judge would like to continue, we have to follow him.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE

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