PRINCE Norodom Sirivudh was sentenced to ten years jail on conspiracy and illegal
weapons charges at Phnom Penh Municipal court yesterday.
Sirivudh - who had threatened to kill co-Prime Minister Hun Sen, in what many say
was a joke said in poor taste - is in Paris in exile so didn't appear in court. For
that reason - and a raft of other legal inconsistencies - human rights and legal
observers derided the result as "farcical and purely political".
The trial lasted almost four hours, finishing around lunchtime.
Say Bory, one of Sirivudh's two lawyers, said it was up to Sirivudh to decide whether
to appeal. Bory said he wouldn't comment on whether he thought it would be worth
Bory confirmed he had received a death threat the night before trial. While nothing
happened, Bory said he was "a little scared". The Ministry of Interior
gave him two bodyguards.
Journalists were refused entry to the courthouse and had to throng around open windows
So widespread was the likely outcome of the verdict and sentence that several Phnom
Penh-based journalists had already written their news stories before the trial had
begun. Their "guesses" were spot on with the guilty decision - but one
had to alter an eight year sentence to ten.
The second prime minister had warned Sirivudh weeks ago not to return for the trial,
saying that if Sirivudh returned, when the trial was over, he would go to jail.
Bory said that he was naturally unhappy with the decision, though happy he was given
the chance to argue how the law would be applied.
Judge Ya Sokhan dismissed Sirivudh's defense, though clear reasons were not apparent
at press time.
Bory said he argued there was no proof Sirivudh was leading a group with anyone else
- a necessary ingredient to prove "conspiracy".
But the court said you do not need several people, only the intention to justify
this charge," he said.
"You can make your own understanding [of this]," he told the Post.
As for the charge of possessing illegal weapons, Bory said that Sirivudh did not
have possession - either on his person or in a vehicle - of the arsenal of guns that
were arranged in evidence on a table in the court. Bory said that the law was very
clear on this respect. The court also threw out this defense - though Bory said later
that most Cambodians, including those holding high rank, would therefore be similarly
guilty of the same crime.
Sokhan said the charges were grave and could have caused civil war.
The witnesses called were State Minister Ung Phan (a former CPP official who joined
Funcinpec before the '93 election) - who testified in an affidavit that the Prince
had told him by phone that he could kill Hun Sen; editor So Naro, who testified on
the stand that Sirivudh said similar comment that Naro eventually published in his
newspaper; KJA president Pin Samkhon, who said he would not have written the story
that Naro wrote and that he believed Sirivudh was joking; and, an advertising representative,
Cheam Phary, who was with Naro during his meeting with Sirivudh.