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Rights worker called to court

CCHR chief calls request to appear in R’kiri a form of payback.

THE head of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights (CCHR) told the Post Monday that a recent summons requesting his appearance before the Ratanakkiri provincial court was likely a form of payback for the group’s decision to call for an investigation into the judge’s “alleged improper conduct”.

Judge Thor Saron said Monday that he issued the summons so the court could question Ou Virak about “several cases” in the province, including at least one land dispute. But Ou Virak said the summons was probably a response to the investigation request, which was sent to the Supreme Council of the Magistracy (SCM) on September 10, rather than part of a genuine attempt to obtain information.

I think there’s an element of conflict of interest in this investigation.

A media release accompanying the request cited media reports claiming that Thor Saron released villagers who had been arrested for protesting against DM Group, a developer at the centre of an ongoing land dispute, in exchange for 100 hectares of land. The release also said Thor Saron’s suggestion to former Adhoc provincial coordinator Pen Bonnar that he leave the province to avoid prosecution on charges of defamation, incitement and terrorism could have amounted to an ethics violation.
“I think there’s an element of conflict of interest in this summons. The judge is doing this mainly to harass activists,” Ou Virak said.

He added that he did not think his appearance would be worthwhile, saying: “If you look at the whole picture, I don’t think I could give much” new information.

Nevertheless, he said he would appear despite the fact that, under Cambodian law, the court could opt to charge him as a suspect in one of the cases and detain him. Thor Saron said the summons requested his appearance any time after the Pchum Ben festival.

Ou Virak said he had heard nothing from the SCM regarding the investigation request. Chiv Keng, head of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and a member of the SCM, said he knew nothing about the request and referred questions to Dith Munty, head of the council’s disciplinary
committee. Dith Munty could not be reached for comment Monday.

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