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Unjust trial of opposition parliamentarian leads to conviction, 7 years

Published on August 9, 2005 - Cambodia

On Tuesday morning August 9, Military Court Judge General Nay Thol sentenced opposition Law maker Cheam Channy to 7 years imprisonment on charges of organizing illegal armed forces and committing fraud, despite lack of credible testimony or evidence to back up charges.

The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (known by its French acronym LICADHO), condemned the August 8 trial of Cheam Channy, a parliamentarian for the Sam Rainsy Party, which should not have been held in the Military Court. The Military Court does not have jurisdiction over civilians such as Cheam Channy. LICADHO is also deeply concerned by the grossly unfair treatment of Cheam Channy during the course of the trial.

Judge Ney Thol, who is the President of the Military Court, seriously obstructed the ability of Cheam Channy's defense lawyers to defend their client. The Judge limited the defense lawyers' questioning of Cheam Channy during the trial, and did not permit the lawyers to call their own witnesses to testify. In addition, the judge did not allow the defense lawyers to cross-examine all of the prosecution witnesses. Defense lawyers were initially permitted to cross-examine the first prosecution witness. After this witness made statements during the cross-examination that raised doubts about his credibility, the judge stopped the defense lawyers from questioning him further and did not permit the defense to question any other prosecution witnesses.

The case against Cheam Channy was based on statements made by 14 prosecution witnesses. Only 9 of these witnesses were introduced at court, and only 5 of these 9 testified. The judge gave no reason why the other 4 prosecution witnesses did not testify. He appeared to be in a hurry to finish the trial as soon as possible. Subsequently, following the trial verdict, Military Court prosecutor Prum Sornthon told journalists that the remaining 4 witnesses had not testified because it would have taken up too much time.

LICADHO believes the actions of the judge during the trial indicated a bias against Cheam Channy, and the judge appeared to have no interest in hearing all the facts of the case. The judge violated Cambodian legal procedure and seriously obstructed Cheam Channys rights to a fair trial under Cambodian and international law.

The prosecution centered on the establishment of a Sam Rainsy Party committee known as Committee No. 14, a body of party members who monitoring national defense, veterans' affairs, demobilization and public security. Chaired by Cheam Channy, the committee was modeled after "shadow ministries" created by opposition parties around the world to monitor the performance of government ministries. The SRP had similar committees for other areas, such as education, agriculture, and public works. The prosecution alleged that this committee and those connected to it constituted an illegal army.

The prosecution evidence was based largely on internal SRP documents regarding the creation of Committee 14 and the appointments of spokespeople to it, which were openly signed on party letterhead by Cheam Channy. It also relied upon statements made by prosecution witnesses that Cheam Channy recruited them into an "army". One witness testified to the court that he recruited 40,000 people throughout the country into this army -- contradicting a previous written statement by him to the court that he recruited 300 people -- but he was unable to produce any list of these persons. Although the prosecution accused Cheam Channy of creating illegal "armed forces", no evidence was presented in court that anyone connected to Committee 14 had weapons or had plotted or committed any act of violence.

Following the half-day trial on August 8, the judge announced his verdict the following morning. He convicted Cheam Channy and sentenced him to 7 years in the Toul Sleng military prison.

Cheam Channy's co-defendant, SRP activist Khom Piseth, was convicted in absentia of the same charges and received a 5 year prison sentence. Khom Piseth, who fled Cambodia in 2004 to escape arrest, has been granted refugee status and resettled along with his family in Europe.

Following a vote in the in the Cambodian National Assembly removed the parliamentary immunity from Cheam Channy, fellow MP Chea Poch and party leader Sam Rainsy, fled the country to escape arrest. Cheam Channy was arrested by Military Police at that time. Sam Rainsy remains abroad.


This article has been sourced to the Cambodian organization called LICADHO.
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