THE United States and human rights groups have denounced last week’s Appeal Court decision that upheld a two-year prison term handed down to a rights worker.
Leang Sokchouen, a staffer for the rights group Licadho, said following Thursday’s ruling that he would not appeal to the Supreme Court because he had “no more confidence” in Cambodia’s judicial system.
Leang Sokchouen was convicted last August for spreading anti-government leaflets together with three Khmer Krom men. The Appeal Court upheld the ruling last week but changed the conviction from disinformation under the UNTAC code to incitement under the Kingdom’s new penal code, which did not enter into force until December.
The US embassy in Phnom Penh said that the US was “disappointed in the prosecution of Leang Sokchouen”, in a statement released on Friday.
The US said the right to free speech was “fundamental tenet of a democratic system of governance”.
“We hope that the Royal Government of Cambodia will seriously consider the negative effect that the use of criminal prosecutions in response to the expression of political opinions can have on this right,” the statement said.
The politicisation and incompetence of Cambodia’s courts are on full display in this case
Human Rights Watch issued harsh criticisms of the Appeal Court decision and called on donors to “press Hun Sen and his government to change course”.
“The politicisation and incompetence of Cambodia’s courts are on full display in this case, in which an activist has been imprisoned simply for criticising the government,” Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, said in a statement on Friday.
“Sokchouen should never have been charged in the first place, but to have the charges changed on appeal with no opportunity to challenge them sets a new standard for arbitrariness. The government should immediately drop the charges and release him.”
HRW said Leang Sokchouen’s trial had been marred by “numerous procedural flaws as well as violations of fair trial provisions”.
Tith Sothea, a spokesman for the Press and Quick Reactions Unit at the Council of Ministers, defended the government’s record on judicial reform and dismissed the criticism of the court ruling as “normal”. He said HRW had “no right” to interfere with the court’s authority.
“The court has its independence and does not judge in order to satisfy Human Rights Watch, and sentences [are] based on the law and the actual offence,” he said.
Pol Sam Oeun, chief of the Appeal Court’s trial council, could not be reached for comment on Friday.