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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - SRP activist ordered back home

SRP activist ordered back home

Human rights organizations worldwide decried a recent ruling by Thai courts to extradite

Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) activist Sok Yoeun, who has been imprisoned in Bangkok since

December 1999.

The November 28th verdict ordered the return of 57-year-old Yoeun to Cambodia, where

he will face trial for an alleged assassination attempt on Prime Minister Hun Sen

in 1998.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the United Nations High Commissioner

for Refugees (UNHCR) called on the Thai government to release Yoeun, who is reportedly

in ill health, and allow him to resettle with his family in Finland.

Criticism centered around the court's decision to classify Yoeun's case as non-political,

a ruling that angered many who followed the case. Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued

a statement highlighting the group's misgivings.

"We are concerned that Sok Yoeun may be forcibly returned to Cambodia, despite

the fact that he has been recognized as a refugee by the UN," HRW stated. "A

highly politicized case such as this one - coming as Cambodia gears up for a national

election - makes it much less likely that he will receive a fair trial."

Yoeun, an outspoken critic of the government, fled to Thailand when a warrant was

issued for his arrest in connection with a 1998 rocket attack allegedly aimed at

Hun Sen.

He was originally picked up in Thailand on immigration charges, where he served six

months imprisonment before being released. However he was promptly re-arrested and

detained awaiting the extradition hearing.

Phi Thach, chief of cabinet at the SRP, said Yoeun was arrested solely for political

reasons, and the evidence against him was fabricated.

"It's a pitiful situation when the Thai courts asserted that Yoeun's case was

not political." said Thach. "We believe he was accused falsely. Yoeun was

involved in politics [and] spoke ill of Hun Sen. That is why he was targeted to be

an enemy of the country's leader."

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith had no knowledge of the evidence against Yoeun,

but said claims made by the human rights community were overblown. "Nobody has

said that he is guilty - he just needs to be in Cambodia to be questioned,"

he said.

Thach said Yoeun's defense team would lodge an appeal against the extradition verdict

within a week. In the meantime, Yoeun's family in Finland continue to fight for international

support.

"This verdict is tantamount to a death sentence imposed on an innocent man,"

said an open letter from Yoeun's family to the European Commission. "We humbly

urge you ... to liberate Sok Yoeun from the prison and allow him to join us in Finland."

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