Sok Sam Oeun (in white) and Born Samnang (in blue) are escorted by police at the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh last month. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post
International rights groups yesterday called on Prime Minister Hun Sen to release four high-profile prisoners widely believed to have been wrongfully convicted, and urged “an end to any act of harassment against human rights defenders in Cambodia”.
In the open letter signed by the heads of the International Federation for Human Rights and World Organisation Against Torture, the groups express “deep concern” over a series of court decisions that took place at the end of December, which resulted in the imprisonment of land activist Yorm Bopha and the re-arrests of the alleged murderers of Chea Vichea – Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun.
“The Observatory fears that such decisions were adopted during that time of the year to avoid scrutiny by the international community and the media,” the letter says, which urges that the three, along with Beehive radio owner Mam Sonando, be freed “immediately and unconditionally”.
Sonando was sentenced to 20 years in prison on insurrection charges. Bopha was sentenced to three years on accusations of having assaulted a motodop. And Samnang and Sam Oeun were re-sentenced to 20 years in prison, after spending nearly half a decade free, for the 2004 slaying of the outspoken unionist.
The letter also calls for an end to “judicial harassment” of Adhoc senior investigator Chan Soveth, who on December 24 faced questioning on charges of having aided a perpetrator of the so-called Kratie secession movement. While not imprisoned, the charges still stand.
“This past year saw an increase in arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, judicial harassment of defenders, and even the killing of key activists with impunity,” the letter adds. “The Observatory thus reiterates its call to the Cambodian authorities to put an end to any act of harassment against human rights defenders in Cambodia.”
Spokesman for the Council of Ministers, Phay Siphan, said each hearing was carried out in accordance with the law and lambasted the rights groups for encouraging interference from the higher ranks.
“Forcing the government to free them is illegal, and I cannot accept it. The government cannot interfere in the court,” said Siphan.
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]