KING Norodom Sihamoni has appealed to Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana to prevent the arrest and detention of Khmer Civilisation Foundation (KCF) head Moeung Sonn if he returns to Cambodia from self-exile in France.
The King’s letter, dated Thursday, refers to a November 16 letter from Hang Chhaya, president of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), requesting that Moeung Sonn be able to return freely for his retrial at Phnom Penh Municipal Court today.
“I received a letter dated on November 16 … asking me to intervene to prevent the arrest and detention of Moeung Sonn, head of the [KCF], who has been convicted of disinformation by Phnom Penh Municipal Court. I would like to submit the above letter and documents to you for consideration,” the King’s letter stated.
On July 14, the court sentenced Moeung Sonn to two years in prison and fined him 15 million riels (US$3,615) after convicting him on disinformation charges stemming from comments he made about a new light-installation project at Angkor Wat, which he publicly said might damage the ancient temples.
Earlier this month, Phnom Penh Municipal Court notified Moeung Sonn’s lawyer, Sam Sokong, that Moeung Sonn could appear in court for a retrial, but Sam Sokong said Monday that his client would not return from France because he feared he would be arrested. He also expressed confusion about the reasons for the retrial, which court officials last week put down to the “internal affairs” of the court.
“If the court sees that recharging [my client] is necessary, there must be a full retrial,” he said.
“My client has not made any mistakes, but I cannot say whether he will be acquitted.”
In its November 16 letter to the King, which was also sent to Prime Minister Hun Sen, CHRAC said Moeung Sonn had “no intentions to degrade the government’s reputation or provoke unrest” in the Kingdom.
His comments about the Angkor Wat lighting scheme, the letter added, echoed the views of other sources, including UNESCO experts.
“The concern, care and sympathy of Mr Moeung Sonn shows a good intention to defend the cultural property and prosperous civilisation of the Khmer nation,” it said.
Government lawyer Pol Chandara said Monday that defendants always protest their innocence, but that the court would decide today.
“It is normal – he wants to be acquitted. My side is the same when we try to find evidence for the court,” he said.