Friday, September 14, 2012

Mam Sonando’s Trial Began Yesterday at Phnom Penh Municipal Court

Phnom Penh, 12 September 2012 — The trial of Mam Sonando, President of the Democrats Association and owner of Beehive radio station (FM 105), began yesterday at Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Mam Sonando faces charges related to a so-called “secessionist plot” in Kratie province, including insurrection and incitement, which could carry a sentence of up to 30 years imprisonment. Mam Sonando, who is 71, voluntarily returned to Cambodia to defend himself. He has been seriously ill while in pre-trial detention and was denied bail on two occasions.

Mam Sonando has repeatedly denied any involvement with a land dispute in Broma village, Kampong Domrey commune, Chhlong district, Kratie province and with Bun Ratha, who is accused of leading the alleged secessionist movement there. On 16 May 2012, 14-year old Heng Chentha was killed by Cambodian armed forces during a clash with villagers resisting their eviction. No investigation has been conducted into the girl’s death, since the authorities claimed that the shooting was “accidental.” Allegations that the villagers intended to create a “self-governing area” lack supporting evidence and are verging on nonsensical. They might be used to divert attention from the authorities’ systematic use of excessive force against citizens embroiled in land conflicts with rich, well-connected companies and individuals.

Yesterday, Mam Sonando reiterated that he did not mastermind a so-called “secessionist plot.” The weapons presented by the prosecution as “evidence”—bows and arrows, sticks and other tools—are usually used for hunting. They cannot match the strength of a military unit, let alone sustain a long-term operation aiming at seceding from Cambodia. If judges seriously claim that Mam Sonando and the villagers intended to create their own state by using such light weapons, then they will have to declare them criminally insane. Furthermore, four months after the violent crackdown in Broma village, Cambodian authorities have failed to present any evidence of Mam Sonando’s and others’ intent to create their own state. Beyond the fact that intent is a constitutive element of a crime under all of the world’s legal systems, secessionist leaders usually claim responsibility for their actions and proclaim their intent to secede; they do not deny it.

The first day of Mam Sonando’s trial witnessed an improvement in the Cambodian judicial authorities’ observance of fair trial rights. Numerous witnesses were called to testify (although the vast majority of them were called by the prosecution); counsels were present in the room; and diplomats and a few NGO representatives were allowed in the courtroom. Conversely, on 24 May 2012, 13 women from the Boeung Kak community were sentenced to prison terms after a two-hour trial during which all of their basic fair trial rights were violated.

However, several rights of the defense have been ignored by the judicial authorities. Long Lun, an Attorney at Law working with ADHOC, represents eight of the accused, namely: Touch Roeun, Phorn Sroeurn and Kan Sovan (who have been placed in pre-trial detention) and Hang Phal, Heng Thoeurn, Mao Veasna, Phum Vannak and Saroeun Rom (who had been released on bail). ADHOC noticed several irregularities with regard to due process. Firstly, in breach of article 98 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, several of the accused did not have access to a lawyer after the expiration of a period of twenty-four hours from the beginning of police custody. Secondly, Long Lun had full access to the case file only on 7 September—two working days before the start of the trial. Article 145 of the Criminal Procedure Code stipulates that the investigating judge shall summon the counsel for the accused at least five days before the interrogation takes place, and grant him or her access to the case file. This never happened. Lastly, in the next few days, Long Lun could not freely communicate with his clients. Prison officials prevented them from meeting with their counsel, in violation of article 149 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

What is more, Cambodian citizens, NGO workers and international observers were prevented from entering the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday. Doors were closed to journalists, except when a key prosecution witness was questioned. Outside the court, police forces completely closed Charles de Gaulle Boulevard and all adjacent streets, demonstrating skills in crowd management that went virtually unnoticed before.

The second day of the trial should allow the court to hear more witnesses. ADHOC calls for more transparency and hopes that Cambodian citizens, NGO workers and journalists will be able to enter the courtroom to monitor one of the most high-profile trials held in Cambodia in recent years.

For more information, please contact ADHOC’s Human Rights Monitoring Section:
Mr. Ny Chakrya, Head of Section: 011 274 959  (Khmer, English)

Mr. Nicolas Agostini, Technical Assistant: 078 405 024  (French, English)

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