Phnom Penh Municipal Court ordered yesterday that charges against Sourn Serey Ratha, a Khmer-American dissident who is considered a terrorist by the Cambodian government, be changed from “incitement to commit a crime” to “treason”.
Municipal Court judge Top Chhunheng said he had decided to transfer the case to the investigating judge under the charge of treason, which carries a sentence of 15 to 30 years imprisonment.
“Based on the hearing and the prosecutor’s conclusion, Sourn Serey Ratha was the leader of an illegal and armed movement that has always opposed the Royal Government of Cambodia with the aim of overthrowing the government led by Prime Minister Hun Sen. His activity was considered treason and was a felony,” he said.
The investigating judge should “conduct further investigation and research into collecting more evidence [against Serey Ratha] in order to accuse him of being a traitor”, he awent on to say.
Serey Ratha, the leader of the US-based Khmer People Power Movement (KPPM), was originally charged with “incitement to commit a crime” for allegedly calling on the country’s armed forces to turn their weapons on “the despot”, Hun Sen, in a Facebook post, dated August 14, 2013.
Serey Ratha did not attend the trial, but his lawyer, Sok Sam Oeun, said there was “no justice” in the ruling.
“The court could not find him guilty in this case but has changed his charges from a misdemeanor to a felony,” he told reporters outside the courtroom yesterday.
The case came less than a week after a report on the National Police Commissariat website revealed that the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) would be cooperating with Cambodia in its efforts to crack down on US-based dissidents.
Yesterday, Serey Ratha said that he felt targeted by the announcement, but he was not concerned.
"As I am a U.S. Citizen I defend the U.S. Constitution and obey the law of the U.S. . . . The [FBI] is not a political tool of a communist or a toy of [the] Cambodian government,” he wrote in an email.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY