Less than 24 hours before today’s scheduled appearance at Phnom Penh Municipal Court for questioning over charges of assisting a ringleader of the so-called Kratie secession, senior Adhoc investigator Chan Soveth said he had faith he would walk out this afternoon a free man.
“I am not guilty, I never committed any wrongdoing,” he told the Post yesterday. “I think the court won’t put me in jail because there’s not enough evidence to convict me.”
According to Soveth’s lawyer, Sam Sok Oeun, the rights worker stands accused of aiding Ma Chhang, one of five men the government said masterminded a separatist movement in the remote Pro Ma village.
One day after security forces stormed in to disband the movement – shooting dead a 14-year-old girl in the process and driving out hundreds embroiled in a long-standing land dispute with rubber concessionaire Casotim – officials named Chhang and four others as ringleaders.
Sok Oeun called the “assisting” charge patently false and, like Soveth’s colleagues at Adhoc and elsewhere, highlighted the investigator’s professionalism and experience in human rights.
“If the court is independent, if it follows the rule of law, Chan Soveth will be released from the charge tomorrow,” he said.
It’s likely a big “if.” Already the case has been marred with irregularities.
Charged in early August, Soveth and his defence team received access to the case file only days before he is set to stand question. As they scramble to piece together the case, other rights groups have raised concerns over the political dimension to the case.
The charges are dated just two days after Prime Minister Hun Sen accused an unnamed NGO worker of helping a secessionist leader escape.
Both Sok Oeun and Soveth questioned the key piece of evidence in the case, a statement allegedly issued by Chhang.
Earlier this year, Chhang and four others were promised immunity in exchange for testimony implicating independent Beehive radio station owner Mam Sonando for the same incident. In late September, Sonando was sentenced to 20 years on charges of stoking the Kratie insurrection.
Admitting that the case may be an uphill battle, Soveth said he was prepared to defend his actions. But, for a rights worker with more than 15 years’ experience, the accusation rankles.
“I’m not involved in politics. They should respect humanitarian activities.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Abby Seiff at firstname.lastname@example.org