Police guard CFF trial defendants during sentencing at Phnom Penh's Supreme Courthouse Nov 5.
The trial of 28 Cambodian Freedom Fighters (CFF) generated little heat and not much
light in explaining the shadowy rebel movement responsible for the attack on Phnom
Penh November 24 last year.
In contrast to the June trial which saw the conviction of 30 CFF members, the second
CFF trial was a low key affair. The heavy security presence of the first trial was
lessened, the large crowds stayed away and, with the major CFF leaders dealt with
at the first trial, there were few high profile figures this time.
"We still don't understand much about the CFF, but for myself it's clear that
their leader is not trustworthy," said Sok Sam Ouen of the Cambodian Defenders
Project, which defended many of the accused.
Key witnesses did not appear in court and were not cross examined. Of those convicted,
18 had been identified from photographs by An Mao, himself convicted of being a CFF
member in the June trial. He was not required to appear at the trial. Lawyers for
the accused spoke of their frustrations at the court's approach to evidence.
"Cambodia has no clear rules of evidence," Sam Ouen said of the seemingly
arbitrary use of witness testimony. "Nothing is predictable in Cambodian law."
"This verdict contained both justice and injustice occurring at the same time.
Some of my clients were released, but others were tricked and cheated because they
never committed any terrorism," said Put Theavy, lawyer for eight men convicted
at the trial.
Two of Theavy's clients, Chou Try and Put Siem, were released for lack of evidence
after being held for 11 months in Prey Sar prison. Theavy said he and his clients
will be discussing bringing a case of 'unlawful imprisonment' against the government
once they are released from prison. The two men had been arrested when they visited
the house of a CFF member and it was raided by police.
The 26 others were given jail sentences between three and 15 years. Some lawyers
said they would appeal the sentences.
"Half of the defendants were forced to confess. Others had joined in 1998 and
abandoned the CFF a year later, but they were still convicted," said Theavy
who said he intended to appeal against his clients' convictions by the end of the
In his judgment handed down November 5, Judge Sok Sethamony said that because there
was evidence against the accused the court was entitled to ignore the UNTAC penal
code which states that suspects can only be detained for six months without bail.
"We reject this idea and this is why we may appeal," said Sam Ouen who
added that a final decision on an appeal was yet to be made.
The judge referred to the November 1 bombings in Pursat province. Six small bombs
went off near government buildings, causing no damage or injuries. Provincial and
military authorities immediately concluded that the attacks were the work of the
CFF, although no one has yet been detained. The judge cited that event as evidence
that the CFF was still a threat to Cambodia.
Sethamony dismissed the defense used by most of the accused who claimed during the
trial that they were duped into coming to Phnom Penh on the promise of construction
work and then forced to take part in the attack at gunpoint.
"The accused are real criminals. They explained that they were threatened
to join the fighting, but these are only made-up excuses," said the judge.
Three men received 15 years, seven were sentenced to ten years, five men were
given seven years, ten received five years, one man three years and two were acquitted
for lack of evidence. Among those sentenced to ten years was prison escapee Sin Kanhapol
who was tried in absentia.
Regarding Doung Sopheap, the 29-year-old customs employee who claimed to have defected
to the government on the promise of an amnesty, the judge said he would consider
giving him a lighter sentence. Sopheap was among those sentenced to seven years in
Sopheap's mother, Tit Sovanna, 55, expressed her anger outside the courtroom.
"I have the video tape of the Prime Minister declaring that anyone who surrendered
would receive an amnesty and reward. The government failed to deliver its promise.
The trial is unfair for my son," a weeping Sovanna told reporters.
In sentencing Tep Simoly to 15 years imprisonment the judge said he would not consider
Simoly's defense. Simoly claimed that he worked for the military intelligence unit
of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF),but said that papers proving his security
role were destroyed when he was arrested.
Doung Sopheap, leaves the court after being sentenced to seven years jail for his role in the CFF attack.
The judge cited a letter sent to the court by Hour Sareth, deputy-commander of the
military intelligence unit of RCAF, in which he denied any link with Simoly.
The judge requested that Sareth attend the hearing but Sareth wrote to the court
claiming that he knew nothing of Tep Simoly and was too busy to attend the trial.
"Hour Sareth must attend the trial," said Simoly's lawyer, Theavy.
"Tep Simoly's judgment was very unjust because he worked for the government
and then they denied it. There was clear evidence but the police confiscated that
evidence. I will try to produce proof of his government position in the Appeal Court,"
Human rights workers and some politicians have long expressed concerns that the CFF
has been sponsored or infiltrated by the government to justify a crackdown on their
A new round of arrests which began in September has so far seen almost 60 people
jailed on suspicion of belonging to the CFF. Some of those are members of Funcinpec
or the Sam Rainsy Party.
Theavy, who will represent 14 alleged CFF members arrested in September, said that
in contrast with previous trials he was satisfied with the access he has been given
to his clients so far.
Bun Seng, military commander of Region 5 in Battambang, said that there were still
many CFF near the Thai border, but if they surrendered then not all would be sent
"At the end of last month 94 CFF surrendered in Banteay Meanchey province and
15 surrendered in Battambang. Following the government's principle they were educated
and then allowed to return to their homes," he said.
Investigating Judge Khim Sophorn said that he has "just completed" investigations
on 19 of the CFF suspects arrested since September and currently being held at PJ
prison in Phnom Penh.
The suspects, including the Cambodian/American Sao Chum Gilbert who was arrested
at Pochentong Airport on September 8, are likely to face the court some time next
month, Sophorn said.
Tep Simoly expressing his initial reluctance to tell the court of his 'double
agent' role: "I can't tell you because this is my mysterious affair."
Judge to defendant Chea Kim Som: "If you expect justice then you must speak
Defendant: "I only confessed because the military police beat me and burned
me with cigarettes"
Judge: "Which is more frightening: When the Military Police point a gun at you
or when the terrorists do?"
case in quotes - selected text
Defendant: "I fear both."
Defendant: "I shot three rounds into the air."
Judge: "In which direction."
Defendant: "Into the trees."
Judge: "Why didn't you just shoot them when they gave you the gun?"
Defendant: "I didn't dare because there were gunmen waiting outside the house."
Defendant: "I was told I was working for American soldiers."
Defendant: "The military police tortured me and burned cigarettes on my body."
Judge: "So did the prosecutor beat you?" Defendant: "No."
Judge: "Then I don't believe that the law beat you either."
Defendant: "I wanted to escape but I was afraid I would be shot if I tried."
Defendant: "I don't know what terrorism means."
Tep Simoly's lawyer, Put Theavy, on Hour Sareth, deputy-commander of military intelligence
unit of RCAF: "He is a capricious man creating headaches. He blames innocent
people then arrests them."
A human rights worker commenting on the above quote: "Oh, Theavy must be a brave
Judge to defendant Doung Sopheap: "Your colleagues wanted to kill you because
you betrayed them ... You see for the first CFF trial we were criticized as threatening
the suspects because we deployed police and dogs. But the court has the duty to protect
Defendant: "I was trying to escape and one of the group felt pity on me and
said: 'Leave the B40 rocket and go and hide somewhere.'"
Defendant: "I just came to Phnom Penh because I wanted to be a construction
Judge: "Do you recognize any of the defendants from the night of the attack."
Judge: "Are you afraid like a dog?"
Policeman: "No, I'm a lion."
Policeman: "I just pretended to be unconscious so they wouldn't shoot me."
Policeman: "The CFF member said to me: 'OK if you are not yuon [Vietnamese]
then just please keep quiet.'"
Judge to a policeman attempting to demonstrate his below the belt gunshot wound:
"Please don't take off your clothes."