Bangladeshi authorities have strongly condemned the conviction of three men on terror charges at Phnom Penh Municipal Court today, in a case that has sent shockwaves throughout Cambodia’s South Asian community.
In a hearing today, Judge Sin Visal sentenced Bangladeshi nationals Rafiqul Islam, 42, and Miah Muhammed Huymayan Kabir, 62, an Nepali DP Paudel, 44, to eight years prison after finding them guilty under the Kingdom’s anti-terrorism law.
He added that Paudel will also be deported following his release from jail.
The three were arrested in April 2010, after letters allegedly bearing their names were sent to the British, American and Australian embassies in Phnom Penh threatening an impending terrorist attack.
Sin Visal said in court that the letter “threatened national and international security” and “proves a conspiracy of terrorism” by the three men.
He added that although the accused pleaded innocent, there was not enough evidence to disprove their involvement in the case.
Shahedul Haque, a minister at the Bangladeshi embassy in Bangkok, expressed his concern over the case today, saying he was “extremely disappointed” by the verdict.
“I don’t know what other evidence police could reveal, but if it is based primarily on an anonymous letter then that is very unfortunate,” he said via email.
“We certainly expected both the Bangladeshis would be released as there was no strong evidence in that letter. However, we have confidence in the court that if there is a chance of appeal then proper justice will be made.”
The men have 30 days to appeal the verdict and Islam’s defence lawyer Moun Sokun confirmed today that he has already put in motion a complaint to the Appeal Court.
“The judge sentenced him to eight years and I think that is not a fair decision, because the evidence is not strong enough to provide the judge [with the capacity] to make a judgment about this case,” Moun Sokun said today.
“But that is the right of the judge and my client and I will appeal the verdict.”
Islam’s wife Chum Bi, 37, was visibly distraught after the verdict, saying the outcome of the trial was clearly unjust.
Islam maintained his innocence after the proceedings, shouting to his family and members of the South Asian community that he was not involved in the case, before being ushered back to Prey Sar prison.
Chum Bi added that a number of vendors from Phnom Penh’s Phsar Kandal market, where the couple’s restaurant was located, thumb-printed a petition calling for his release.
“This is not real justice for my husband, he is innocent. I nearly died after the hearing. If my husband is wrong, give him a life sentence and I will not complain,” Chum Bi said today.
She also claimed she suffered a heart attack after Islam’s arrest, adding that he is in poor health with diabetes and that their restaurant was forced to close, which has jeopardised their family’s financial future.
“I will struggle so that Prime Minister Hun Sen and the King Father can hear this case,” she added.
Representatives of the British and Australian embassies in Phnom Penh declined to comment today.
A US Embassy spokesman said the government was working closely with Cambodian officials at all levels on these issues and that Cambodia remains a “key partner in the region to address terrorist threats”.
“While we do not think that terrorism is currently a problem in the country, issues such as porous borders have been linked to terrorist acts in the past,” embassy spokesman Mark Wenig said today. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY PHAK SEANGLY