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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Licadho wants staffer freed

Licadho wants staffer freed

A LOCAL rights group is urging Takeo provincial court to drop disinformation charges against one of its employees, saying there is little evidence linking him to a series of antigovernment leaflets distributed earlier this year.

Authorities in Takeo arrested Leang Sokchouen, a staff member at the Phnom Penh offices of the rights group Licadho, in late May. He was accused of involvement in the production and distribution of antigovernment leaflets in Takeo in January.

The leaflets were distributed days before the January 7 anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime. They asserted that the day should be remembered as the day Cambodia became “abused and occupied” by Vietnam, rather than celebrated as a day of liberation.

Licadho officials say Leang Sokchouen and two former Khmer Krom monks – Thach Le and Thach Vannak – are scheduled to stand trial today.
All three have been charged with disinformation, which carries a possible sentence of between six months and three years in prison as well as a possible fine of 10 million riels (US$2,359).

But Licadho president Pung Chhiv Kek said yesterday that the case had been “plagued by procedural irregularities” and had also been “shrouded in secrecy”.

We’re asking the court to release him immediately.... There is no evidence he has committed any crimes.

She said Leang Sokchouen was implicated because he had phone conversations with one former monk accused of distributing the leaflets. She said the monk was merely an acquaintance, and that there was no evidence that would justify prosecution.
“They found his phone number on a list of phone numbers from one of the suspects,” she said.

“Is this evidence? He knew this person since 2005. This is not a crime.”

Pung Chhiv Kek said that Leang Sokchouen was not involved in the distribution of the leaflets.

A report by Licadho dated July 2010 and distributed yesterday said that Leang Sokchoeun could have been incorrectly identified as a suspect in the case in a police report produced after a daylong investigation.

The police report identifies “Mr Leang Sokly, called Chhoeun” as a suspect, and goes on to describe him as a Vietnamese man living in Phnom Penh’s Russey Keo district.

Leang Sokchouen is Khmer and lives in Sen Sok district, according to Licadho.

Pung Chhiv Kek said the discrepancy was further evidence that Leang Sokchouen had been inappropriately charged.

“We’re asking the court to release him immediately and drop the charge against him,” Pung Chhiv Kek said. “There is no evidence he has committed any crimes.”

Licadho officials are also demanding that an investigation be conducted into the circumstances surrounding Leang Sokchouen’s detention following his May arrest.

Rather than being brought to see a trial judge, which is required under such circumstances, Leang Sokchouen was held and questioned for 33 hours in the absence of a lawyer, according to Licadho. He has remained in pretrial detention for the past three months.

Pung Chhiv Kek said the case was another example of the improper use of Cambodian courts in politically sensitive cases.

“This is again the misuse of the courts,” Pung Chhiv Kek said. “And also, this disregards the rule of law in Cambodia.”

Meas Sopheak, the Takeo provincial court prosecutor handling the case, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHRANN CHAMROEUN

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