Extended pre-trial detentions under scrutiny
Phnom Penh judge Tan Senarong may be the defendant in a trial of his own soon.
A deputy prosecutor at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court has filed a complaint with
the Ministry of Justice alleging that Senarong broke Article 21 of the 1993 law on
judiciary and criminal procedures when he held a Vietnamese national for 17 months
According to Article 21, a suspect can be held only six months before trial. A public
official who fails to comply with the law can be punished by up to two years in prison.
But Senarong is not the only judge allowing suspects to linger in detention for too
long. The Cambodian National Research Organization (CNRO) claim they have discovered
over 300 such cases in 2003 alone.
In January, CNRO president Heang Rihty filed a complaint with the International Criminal
Court against three Phnom Penh municipal court judges: Thong Ol, Tan Senarong, and
On Bunna, who has since been transferred to Kampot province.
"Judges who commit wrongdoing have to be punished like anyone else," Rithy
Senarong defended his actions vigorously. "I have enough evidence and appropriate
reasons," he said, reeling off a litany of explanations.
The pre-trial delay was due to the fact that a lawyer was not assigned in a timely
manner. He was traveling on a mission to Thailand with other judges and so could
not attend the case as promptly as usual. A complaint should be filed against the
investigating judge who took so long to investigate the case in the first place,
He was not surprised to hear that Rithy had filed a formal complaint against him,
claiming that Rithy "wants to defame me." Senarong said Rithy had no right
to be involved in court affairs.
Hanrot Raken, general prosecutor at the Appeal Court, said the disciplinary council
of the Ministry of Justice should conduct an investigation to determine if Senarong
was negligent, or intended to detain the criminal suspect too long.
Raken claims the 12 judges, four prosecutors and 60 judge and prosecutor clerks at
the Phnom Penh Municipal Court are inadequate to handle the rising criminal and civil
caseload, which topped 5,000 cases last year.