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King asks ministry to probe judge

Activist Ouch Pich Samnang
Activist Ouch Pich Samnang is escorted by authorities as he appears at the Phnom Penh appeals court on Friday. Heng Chivoan

King asks ministry to probe judge

King Norodom Sihamoni has asked Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana to investigate the conduct of Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigating judge Keo Mony after he questioned a political activist last month without his lawyer present.

Mony failed to notify the lawyer of detained political activist Ouch Pich Samnang when questioning him on November 18 about an opposition-led protest at Freedom Park in July that turned violent and has seen more than a dozen party members since charged in connection with it.

Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Mu Sochua wrote to the King – who serves as president of the Supreme Council of Magistracy, which oversees judges and prosecutors – on December 3 to complain that Samnang had been questioned for 30 minutes without his lawyer present.

On December 5, in a letter obtained by the Post yesterday, the King wrote to Vong Vathana, who also sits on the council, asking him to investigate.

“I would [like] to send this case to your excellency to inspect in accordance with the procedure,” the King wrote.

The Supreme Council of Magistracy can take disciplinary action against judges and prosecutors if they are deemed to have breached their code of conduct. However, under a controversial new law passed earlier this year, it is up to the Minister of Justice to decide after preliminary investigation whether the case is forwarded to the disciplinary council or not.

Vong Vathana could not be reached yesterday. Sam Prachea Manith, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Magistracy, and Kim Santepheap, spokesman of the Justice Ministry, declined to comment.

Keo Mony hung up on a reporter when asked about the case.

Sochua said yesterday that many online commentators were “very surprised as well as supportive and encouraged” that the King had intervened.

She added, however, that the move should not be considered “political”, given it was in line with his constitutional role. Nonetheless, Sochua praised the King for acting on her call.

“It’s very encouraging that his majesty is playing this role and we will see how far we can push. At least it’s a signal that it’s not going to be business as usual and that is my intention,” she said.

Veteran political commentator Lao Mong Hay, who was recently appointed an adviser to deputy opposition leader and parliament first deputy president Kem Sokha, said it was not the first time the King had made such an intervention.

But, Mong Hay cautioned, the government may not approve.

“We need to wait and see whether the reaction is positive or negative, as I remember at least on one occasion [when the King intervened] it was not positive.”

Choung Choungy, Samnang’s lawyer, said he was very happy with the King’s request.

“[Keo Mony’s] questioning [of Samnang] was wrong because I am his lawyer, so the judge has to invite me to be there,” he said.

“I asked him why he didn’t invite me but he could not answer.”

Separately, the Phnom Penh court has announced that 10 men hit with a variety of charges in connection with the July 15 protest, including Samnang, will have their cases heard on December 25, according to lawyers representing them.

The defendants include CNRP information head Meach Sovannara, who was denied bail by the Appeal Court on Friday, and a number of other party members.

Seven lawmakers also charged will not have their cases heard as they have parliamentary immunity.

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