EIGHTEEN men and one woman were sentenced to lengthy jail terms ranging between five
years and life in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court February 28 in the latest of a series
of trials of the outlawed Cambodian Freedom Fighters.
"The court understands that the suspects are a network under the guidance and
orders of Chhun Yasith, the CFF ring leader outside the country since 11 October
1998," said Judge Sek Sethamony handing down his sentence.
The 20 on trial were drawn from the 64 alleged CFF members arrested in September
and October 2001. Authorities claimed that the CFF was preparing a further assault
Cambodian American Sao Gilbert, who was named in documents as the CFF's deputy minister
for information, was sentenced to ten years in prison. Gilbert, who had worked with
Chhun Yasith in California, said just one word while being lead away from the trial:
Observers of the trial agreed and labeled the trial 'unfair' and no improvement on
the previous two heavily criticized CFF trials.
"The issues are the same as the last two trials," said Naly Pilorge, acting
director of human rights NGO Licadho.
Licadho, which has sent observers to each trial, criticized the lack of access to
lawyers, lack of adequate medical care for the accused, the absence of arrest warrants
in some cases, and the breaching of both the Cambodian Constitution and international
conventions regarding suspects' rights.
Yin Ngim, accused of being the director of the CFF's Thai headquarters, was sentenced
to 20 years in prison on charges of terrorism and membership of an armed group. Ek
Chan Ee, also accused of a leadership role, received a life sentence. David Chan
and Sry Sreng both received 20 years and Me Sam Oeun, a former Funcinpec commune
candidate, received 15 years.
Self-confessed CFF leader Chhun Yasith was tried in absentia for the second time
and was sentenced to 20 years in addition to his previous life sentence.
One man, Sok Khy, was not sentenced but the judge said he would remain under investigation.
The men accused of bombing the Vietnamese embassy in Phnom Penh in April 2001 were
both given eight years and the four men accused of bombing Funcinpec headquarters
and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were sentenced to between eight and 15 years.
Francesca Marotta of the UN's Human Rights office said the trial revealed "the
structural problems of Cambodian justice".
"We have some serious concerns on the fairness and adequacy of the evidence,
the use of confessions and the defense rights of the accused. A serious shortcoming
was the right to an adequate defense," she said.
In previous trials human rights groups had access to the accused and were able to
refer them to lawyers from Cambodian Defenders Project and Legal Aid Cambodia. But
no access was granted to the 64 people arrested on CFF charges since September 2001.
The court appointed Puth Theavy as their defense lawyer.
Recognizing the inherent conflict of interest, the judge informed both the lawyer
and the accused that the suspects could be provided with a new lawyer at any time.
Despite the fact that numerous suspects accused each other of CFF involvement, none
took up the offer to change representation.
Theavy denied that conflict of interest was an issue because his clients were convicted
on documentary evidence and not on each other's accusations.
"There were two kinds of evidence," he said. "Testimony written by
the police and the documents from Richard Kiri Kim's computer. I protested about
this in the court because there are around 20,000 names in the computer. If the government
convicted them all they could not afford the rice to feed them in the prison."
Time and again during the trial the suspects rejected their written statements, saying
confessions were forced or claiming they did not recognize them.
"Sixty percent of the statements were wrong," said Theavy.
However, the majority of the court's time during the five-day trial was taken up
by the judge interrogating the various suspects. The defense lawyer and the prosecutor
confined themselves to only a few minutes of questioning.
The judge cajoled the accused to confess to terrorist activities.
"You should answer with bravery like An Mao [the CFF commander who boasted of
involvement during the first CFF trial]. You should answer like a commander,"
the judge told Yin Ngim at one point.
The court also presented 145 pages of evidence collected by Thai police in a raid
on house in Bangkok. The documents included a list of 37 people, some of whom had
been convicted in earlier CFF trials, a "battle plan" for Phnom Penh outlining
the CFF goal to attack the Ministry of Interior, CFF recruitment letters and a July
2001 faxed letter from the CFF's US-based leader Chhun Yasith.
The shortest sentence of five years was handed out to Sok Nhor, wife of convicted
CFF leader An Mao. While reading her statement during the trial the judge stopped
several times to express sympathy for her.
"This makes me want to cry," he said at one point while reading the tale
of misery that was her life.
A further 16 detainees are scheduled to go on trial in Battambang provincial court
from March 4.