Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Legal wranglings leaving most everyone intimidated

Legal wranglings leaving most everyone intimidated

Legal wranglings leaving most everyone intimidated

PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE...

...according to global human rights watchdog Amnesty

International, who are now locked up in Sihanoukville

jail. Licadho worker Kim Sen and his family.

LEGAL proceedings for the Licadho human rights employees - currently jailed for their

alleged part in the toxic waste demonstrations - have been sullied by intimidation,

threats and improper conduct, according to rights workers.

Since the Dec 21 arrest of Kim Sen and Meas Minear, one lawyer and several potential

witnesses have been threatened and relatives of other arrested demonstrators have

been intimidated, said an anonymous rights worker. In addition, Licadho officials

have complained of serious procedural misconduct during the arrest of their employees.

During a recent meeting between Iv Sopheap, the lawyer for Meas Minear, and the director

of the Sihanoukville prison, words were apparently exchanged which a rights employee

described as intimidation. "This seemed like a threat to scare [Sopheap] and

warn him not to take the case too strongly," said the worker.

Another rights worker confirmed that the threat had been taken seriously. He had

received reports that lawyers involved in the case had been followed.

Sopheap (who has this week been called as a witness and will therefore be replaced

by a new lawyer) had been meeting with the prison director to discuss the case against

the two Licadho workers accused of robbery and wrongful damage to property during

Dec 19 demonstrations. They have been refused bail, despite repreated assurances

from Licadho that the men would be available for trial.

Court prosecutor Mam Mith said that bail had been refused because the court was afraid

that the two rights workers would threaten local witnesses not to testify against

them.

But according to the second rights worker, potential witnesses have already been

menaced by anonymous men to attest against the Licadho employees.

"Market vendors have been threatened to testify against Licadho, and relatives

of arrested demonstrators have been told that they should persuade their relatives

to testify" in exchange for lighter sentences or no convictions.

The case is already seen by some as a worrying indicator of a government crackdown

on rights workers. It is the first time rights workers have been imprisoned in Cambodia

since the elections of 1993.

Dr Kek Galabru, President of Licadho, said: "I am afraid, I am very afraid that

it's a negative message to local human rights workers."

Licadho have claimed at least three serious errors were made in the arrest procedure,

including failure to obtain warrants and denial of access to lawyers for the two

accused. Lawyers were not given access to the prosecutor's evidence, which included

video footage and photographs.

However, Dr Galabru said that at a human rights action committee meeting in Phnom

Penh Dec 5 Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng had told her that the photographic evidence

had been dropped, and that there were instead five witnesses to the "robbery".

The question of the purported evidence against the Licadho pair erupted into a row

last week between prosecutor Mith and Ministry of Justice officials. Mith said he

had been visited by the officials who told him there was not enough evidence to prosecute

the Licadho pair.

"They said, ëso far the system of the court is zero'," said Mith, who claims

to have enough evidence to prosecute despite numerous reports from independent investigations

that the evidence is too flimsy. "They came to abuse me. I have been working

hard for my reputation for a very long time, and I am angry when someone abuses me

like that."

PRISONERS OF CONSCIENCE...

...according to global human rights watchdog Amnesty International, who are now locked up in Sihanoukville jail. Meas Minear, and his family, photographed at the beach in Sihanoukville.

The accused must wait until next week to discover whether their second appeal for

bail will be overturned.

Amnesty International has dubbed them "prisoners of conscience". Demelza

Stubbings from Amnesty's London office said the plight of Sen and Minear was "a

very sad beginning for human rights in Cambodia in 1999. The Cambodian authorities

must realise that human rights work is a legitimate activity, not a criminal offence".

Mam Mith, meanwhile, is also the prosecutor for the investigation into the government

officals who approved the waste import - and is being threatened himself, he said,

not to file suit against the officials.

"I have been told by people that are honest to me that if I take the lawsuit

against them [the officials], I will be killed", he said.

But, he said: "I am not afraid. I must convict them, whatever their ranks or

levels are."

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