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US gets heat for judicial criticism

CNRP activist Ouk Pich Samnang is escorted out of Phnom Penh Municipal Court last week by authorities after he and 10 others were convicted on insurrection charges.
CNRP activist Ouk Pich Samnang is escorted out of Phnom Penh Municipal Court last week by authorities after he and 10 others were convicted on insurrection charges. AFP

US gets heat for judicial criticism

Cambodia has slammed the United States for attempting to “destroy security and harmony” in the country after the US Embassy released a statement expressing concern over the jailing of 11 opposition party activists last Tuesday.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party activists, who include US citizen Meach Sovannara, were handed seven- to 20-year prison terms on insurrection charges filed over a year-old protest.

The protest turned into a street fight in which 39 people, mostly security officers, were injured.

On Saturday, the US Embassy released a press statement saying it was troubled by the sentences, viewed by many as overly harsh.

“The United States is deeply concerned by the process leading to these convictions,” it reads.

“We urge the Cambodian government to carefully review its judicial processes to ensure that they are complete and transparent and in accordance with domestic law and international norms.”

The Cambodian government, however, reacted strongly to the statement, accusing the US of attempting to destabilise the Kingdom.

“Cambodia is independent and sovereign, and therefore the [US announcement] supporting the criminals and not respecting the court’s decision is a completely wrong act, and can be considered as intended to increase anarchy and destroy security and harmony in the whole of Cambodian society,” a letter from the Press and Quick Reaction Unit released on Saturday reads.

The letter goes on to justify the conviction of the 11 activists, describing their trial and sentencing as wholly independent of the politics.

“In order to eliminate the culture of impunity and strengthen the rule of law, as well as [lessen] violence, the government has an obligation to take legal measures in accordance with the Constitution in order to ensure peace and justice for the victims.

“The Press and Quick Reaction Unit … absolutely denies any charge made at the government [that it is] interfering in court affairs, which is an act against the principles of the laws stated in the constitution.”

Political analyst Ou Virak, however, said the Cambodian judicial system remained far from independent, even according to the country’s own laws, which empower executive bodies such as the Anti-Corruption Unit to oversee the courts.

“You basically have everything in the laws that say the courts cannot be independent, period,” he said. “Because of that I think Cambodia will always be accused of making political/judicial decisions.”

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