Senior Adhoc investigator Chan Soveth (C) walks with supporters at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in December of last year. Charges against Soveth were dropped on Friday, Feb. 08, 2013. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post
Charges against rights investigator Chan Soveth have been dropped, six months after the highly controversial accusation of aiding a ringleader of the so-called Kratie secession was levied.
“I got the information letter this morning in my office. The letter said that, in the case of Mr Chan Soveth, the judge decided to drop the charge,” defence lawyer Sam Sok Oeun told the Post on Friday.
Sok Oeun said the letter contained no information explaining why the charges had been dropped, and Investigating Judge Chhe Virak could not be reached for comment.
Though the notification provided little detail and the court remained mum, Soveth’s lawyer said the rights worker stood accused of aiding Ma Chhang, one of five men the government claimed masterminded a secessionist movement in Kratie’s remote Pro Ma village.
The alleged secessionist movement was used as justification for a violent mass eviction last May that resulted in the death of a 14-year-old girl and saw 1,000 families – who have been enmeshed in a long-standing land dispute with a powerful rubber concessionaire – forced off the land.
The dropped abetting charge represents a rare positive outcome in a case that has involved nine arrests and seen 12 convictions thus far.
The most high-profile of these, Beehive radio owner Mam Sonando, was sentenced to 20 years in prison on charges of insurrection, while a local activist, Bun Ratha, received a 30-year sentence in absentia.
Three other men were sentenced to between 10 months and five years in prison, while two others still at large were sentenced to 15 years. Five were released on suspended sentences in exchange for implicating testimony.
Vociferously denied by Soveth, his lawyers and Adhoc, other rights groups called the charges against the rights investigator little more than a blatant intimidation tactic.
Though Soveth was not arrested after his December 24 questioning, he was ordered to report his whereabouts to the court whenever leaving the capital.
To contact the reporter on this story: Abby Seiff at firstname.lastname@example.org
With assistance from May Titthara