Lawyers for two human rights workers, charged in connection with the riots in Sihanoukville
following the dumping of toxic waste, say their clients have been ambushed by the
Kim Sen and Meas Minear, who both work for the human rights NGO Licahdo in Kampong
Som, were arrested December 21 last year and accused of robbery and property damage.
But the court has just announced the charges for the June 21 trial have been changed
- a move their lawyers say leaves too little time to prepare a proper defense.
In addition, Licahdo representatives said 50 witnesses have been called by the prosecution,
as opposed to the seven who were originally named.
This leaves the lawyers for Kim Sen and Meas Minear just eleven days to conduct cross
examinations and research the witnesses' backgrounds.
The two men will now be charged under articles two and seven of the 1991 demonstration
law. Article two states that a street demonstration may be held only if there is
no violence, no arms, if it does not harm public peace, order or security, and as
long as three days' notice is given to the authorities.
Article seven states that "any demonstrators who use violence, cause damage
to other peoples' properties ... or cause injuries or loss of life to other people
or top officials on duty will be punished ... those who instigate demonstrators into
violence will be punished..."
Lean Chenda, lawyer for Meas Minear, said that the change of charges mean that she
would have to prepare a new defense strategy, but that there was not time to do so.
"The authorities are obliged to give us fifteen days notice; they have only
given eleven," she said.
"It's illegal to do this," she added.
Licadho has denied the men's guilt all along, saying that they were acting within
their mandate and informing the demonstrators of their rights.
Human Rights Watch recently released a report calling for the immediate dismissal
of the original charges, owing to lack of evidence and improper arrest procedures.
The Court of Appeal said January 20 that the arrests and detention were improper
because the Sihanoukville court had failed to review the evidence against them beforehand,
and ordered the release of the two men from prison.