INTERNATIONAL advocates are calling for the release of a local rights worker who was one of four people convicted of disinformation this week after what critics say was a flawed investigative process.
In a joint statement issued yesterday, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights and the World Organisation Against Torture condemned the conviction of Leang Sokchouen, whom the Takeo provincial court on Tuesday sentenced to two years in prison and fined 2 million riels (US$476). The rights groups said the trial was “marked by numerous procedural flaws as well as violations of fair trial provisions” spelled out in Cambodian and international law.
“This conviction once again highlights the lack of independence and impartiality of the courts, which are all too often used as a tool against the less powerful, rather than to uphold their rights,” Donna Guest, Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific deputy director, was quoted as saying in the statement.
Leang Sokchouen, who is employed by local rights group Licadho, and three Khmer Krom men living in Takeo province were accused of distributing antigovernment leaflets earlier this year. Two accused – Thach Vannak, a former monk, and Thach Le, a motorbike-taxi driver – received the same sentences. A fourth person, Thach Khong Phoung, the plot’s alleged mastermind, was convicted in absentia and sentenced to three years in prison and fined 6 million riels (US$1,430).
The leaflets, which were found scattered in three Takeo districts in advance of the January 7 anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, asserted that the day should not be viewed as one of liberation, but as the day Cambodia became “abused and occupied” by Vietnam.
In reaching his decision, Judge Cheng Bunly said the leaflets were inappropriately critical of the government.
“These actions affect the national leaders and create unrest in society,” he said on Tuesday.
Thach Setha, president of the Kampuchea Krom Community, yesterday called the convictions “completely unjust and unacceptable”.
“I believe that the act of the court in convicting the three Khmer Krom people was under political influence,” he said.
Thach Setha said the four convicts were unlikely to have opposed the celebration of the January 7 anniversary because they were neither opposition activists nor part of a resistance movement aimed at overthrowing the government.
Though Thach Vannak and Thach Le were not represented by a lawyer during their one-day trial, Thach Setha said he would now look for lawyers to help them appeal against their convictions.
Leang Sokchouen’s lawyer, Ham Sunrith, said his client plans to appeal as well.
“My client has given me the right to arrange the filing of an appeal,” he said. “I hope that the Appeal Court will launch a hearing soon.”