AMNESTY International has called for the “immediate and unconditional release” of jailed Sam Rainsy Party activist Tuot Saron, describing him as a “prisoner of conscience”.
“Amnesty International believes that the accusations against [Tuot Saron] were baseless and politically motivated, in order to intimidate other opposition party activists,” the organisation said in a statement issued September 15.
Tuot Saron was arrested on March 18, 2008, ahead of that year’s national elections, in which the ruling Cambodian People’s Party won about 58 percent of the popular vote.
The Amnesty statement said that Tuot Saron and three other SRP members were approached “for protection” by another SRP candidate under pressure from the CPP to switch party affiliation. After travelling with her from Kampong Thom to Phnom Penh, he was arrested and held in pretrial detention for a year.
At his trial in March 2009, Tuot Saron was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for abducting and illegally holding the SRP candidate.
The other three SRP members fled the country and were charged in absentia and sentenced to three to five years in jail for the same crime.
SRP spokesman Yim Sovann applauded Amnesty’s statement and said Tuot Saron’s case was an example that the court system was not free of the executive branch.
“The judiciary is controlled by the government, by the ruling party,” he said, urging that the members of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy be elected rather than appointed.
The Cambodian judicial system has come under fire in recent weeks from international human rights monitors. In his recent report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, UN rights envoy Surya Subedi concluded that the separation of powers required by the constitution was “blurred”.
Phay Siphan, spokesman of the Council of Ministers, said yesterday that he was unaware of Amnesty’s statement, but described its demand as “stupid”.
“You have to challenge [this case] in the court,” he said. “We are a state of law over here.”