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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - CHEAM CHANNY: THE TRIAL

CHEAM CHANNY: THE TRIAL

Unlike the municipal court, which hears the bulk of Phnom Penh's trials, the Military

Tribunal is a large, well-lit room with a fresh coat of paint and microphones for

the key players.

On August 8, it was overflowing with uniformed military officers, police, diplomats,

human rights observers and journalists.

Despite Cheam Channy's position as a parliamentarian and the fact that the charges

against him were taken from the UNTAC penal code for civilians, he was tried by the

Military Tribunal, which deals with "military offenses ... involving military

personnel ... which concern discipline within the armed forces or harm to military

property."

The opposition MP was charged with violating the 1997 Law on Political Parties, which

outlaws "organizing armed forces." Punishments for this violation are set

out by penal law and in Channy's case fell under organized crime (article 36) and

fraud (article 45) statutes.

About 9 a.m, after the court staff, the defendants, and five of the nine prosecution

witnesses were introduced, the charges were read and the trial began.

The judge asked Channy questions about his role in Committee 14. The Sam Rainsy Party

leader explained that he had signed documents appointing leaders and spokesmen for

various branches of a shadow government. This included Committee 14, which was assigned

the job of collecting information about demobilization, corruption and land grabs

by the military. This information was to be sent to the National Assembly, Channy

said, to try and solve these problems.

Dozens of documents bearing SRP letterhead and detailing this shadow government hierarchy

were pinned to a notice board behind the witnesses.

Channy said the idea for the shadow government came from a seminar organized by the

Kondrad Adenauer Foundation, the International Republican Institute and the National

Democrats Institute.

Channy confirmed he was president of Committee 14, and that he had appointed Khom

Pisith as a spokesman. (Pisith was granted refugee status in Norway in May after

fleeing the country in the wake of the "rebel army" claims, but was tried

in absentia alongside Channy.)

Prosecutor Prum Sornthon then checked what Channy knew about the function of specific

departments and bureaus within the Ministry of National Defense.

Channy appeared dazed, and slightly baffled, at some of the questions. Associates

have said his mental and physical health has deteriorated in detention.

Witnesses for the prosecution were Long Sarey, 49, Thach Vang, 42, Keo Sitharn, 42,

Mauy Kinchanry, 42, and Kin Heap, 41. Witnesses who provided statements but did not

appear in court were Heng Savy (now deceased), Ban Kimsrun, 46, Srei Kimleng, 54,

Son Sek, 54, and Meng Hong, 33.

The witnesses had been members of Committee 14 but heeded a call by Prime Minister

Hun Sen on July 18 last year to defect and confess their involvement in exchange

for amnesty.

The first witness to testify was Long Sarey, who said he had personally recruited

40,000 members into a shadow army.

"These forces would immediately show up against the government when Sam Rainsy

was arrested," Sarey said.

He said that although his troops did not have weapons, ranking officials in his group

had their photographs taken in uniform. The photos, however, had all been burned.

Sarey told the court that police officers and soldiers around the country were ready

to join forces with his army in a rebellion against the government.

After several fiery exchanges with defense lawyers (see "Courtroom Capers"

below), the judge ended Sarey's cross-examination and did not allow the defense to

question any further witnesses.

As Sarey left the courtroom, several of the other witnesses waiting outside complained

about his shaky testimony. Sarey was overheard replying, "Don't worry, we are

going to get lots of money for this."

The other four witnesses spent less time on the stand, mostly backing up Sarey's

testimony. Tach Vang said he had recruited 1,800 members to Committee 14. Mauy Kinchanry

said he had recruited 132.

Aside from the SRP documents, prosecutors presented no physical evidence to the court.

Repeated requests from Channy's lawyers to introduce defense witnesses were denied.

In his closing address, defense lawyer Mao Sophearith accused all prosecution witnesses

of receiving coaching to give false information.

"If the judge believes these witnesses, I can say that the prosecutor here appointed

me to be a colonel and told me to recruit 40,000 people to fight against the judge,"

Sophearith said. "If I say this, can the prosecutor here be arrested?"

Channy gave a final statement to the court asking for leniency.

"Release me to my freedom, because my health is not good. I insist to be released,"

Channy said. "What I have done had no bad intention to create armed forces."

At 1 p.m., the presiding judge adjourned the court until the following morning for

the verdict.

On August 9, Thol announced his decision to convict Channy and Pisith, sentencing

Pisith in absentia to five years in prison and Channy to seven years imprisonment.

"Much evidence was found, such as the decision to appoint the spokesmen in each

unit of the armed forces and the receipt [of alleged bribe money for positions] which

Khom Piseth followed the orders of Cheam Channy, these are the evidences to convict

the defendants," Thol said.

As the military guards led Channy away, news photographers rushed to get a shot of

him leaving, temporarily blocking his exit, before being moved aside.

Channy's wife, Chum Seang Leng, wept.

Outside the court, prosecutor Prum Sornthon, gave a brief media interview, saying

simply: "Cambodia has Cambodian law."

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