Exiled preservationist Moeung Sonn has failed in his bid to overturn a 2009 jail sentence handed down against him for comments he made suggesting that a light-installation project at Angkor Wat could damage the famed 12th-century temple
Moeung Sonn, formerly the president of the Khmer Civilisation Foundation, was convicted of disinformation in July of 2009 and sentenced to two years in prison. He has lived abroad for the past two years to avoid prosecution, first in France and later in Thailand.
In reading out the verdict at the Appeal Court yesterday, judge Chan Madina said there was no basis to reverse Moeung Sonn’s conviction.
“The accused person has the intention to publish inaccurate information, which could lead to confusion of the local and international public,” she said.
The Appeal Court did reduce Moeung Sonn’s fine from 15 million riel (US$3,705) to four million riel ($988), and changed the charge in the case from disinformation under the UNTAC criminal code to incitement under the 2009 penal code.
Sok Sam Oeun, Moeung Sonn’s defence lawyer, said the last-second change in charge had taken him by surprise.
“If they want to change the charge, I have the right to know in advance,” Sok Sam Oeun said.
“I think this is violating my right to defend as a lawyer, as well as the rights of my client.”
Cambodian Centre for Human Rights president Ou Virak also questioned the change in charge, saying the original charge of disinformation and the new charge of incitement bear “little resemblance to one another”.
“Today’s judgment is sadly another indictment on the Cambodian judiciary and the rule of law in Cambodia,” he said in an email, adding that it “further exemplifies how the Cambodian courts continue to be used to silence comment and the intolerance shown to even the mildest of criticisms”.
Sok Sam Oeun said he planned to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
Moeung Sonn’s wife, 66-year-old Yi Phally, said outside the courtroom yesterday that a solution to her husband’s legal troubles may have to come from outside the judiciary.
“I would like to appeal to the King and the three Samdechs to help release my husband so he can return home,” she said, using the honourific of Prime Minister Hun Sen, Senate President Chea Sim and National Assembly President Heng Samrin.
Moeung Sonn sent letters of apology for his comments to Hun Sen and King Norodom Sihanmoni following his conviction in 2009, though he received no response. He is now living in Aranyaprathet, Thailand, across the border from Poipet.
Speaking by telephone yesterday, he called the verdict against him “unjust”.
“I’m pained by this decision,” he said. “No other country has laws like Cambodia’s.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE