Friday, July 1, 2011

Licadho staffer appeals verdict

The Appeal Court yesterday denied bail for a Licadho staffer now serving a two-year sentence for disinformation, and said it would issue a ruling in his appeal on July 14.

Pol Sam Oeun, chief of the Appeal Court’s trial council, said the bail request was rejected because it violated court procedure and the court believed it was important to secure the defendant.

Leang Sokcheoun, an employee of the rights group Licadho, was convicted of disinformation last August for distributing anti-government leaflets along with three Khmer Krom men in Takeo province.

Thach Vannak, a former monk, and Thach Le, a motorbike taxi driver, were also sentenced to two years prison. A fourth, alleged mastermind Thach Khong Phoung, was sentenced to three years jail time in abstentia.

The leaflets were dropped in three districts in Takeo province in January and April and criticised the celebration of the January 7 Vietnamese invasion that toppled the Khmer Rouge regime, saying that event should instead by recalled as the day the Kingdom became “abused and occupied” by Vietnam.

In his decision in the case, Takeo provincial court judge Cheng Bunly said “these actions affect the national leaders and create unrest in society”.

Licadho, along with international human rights groups, denounced the arrest, trial and conviction of Leang Sokcheoum, saying they were riddled with irregularities and exemplified the court system’s malleability in the face of sensitive political issues.

At yesterday’s hearing, Leang Sokcheoun said he was only acquainted with the three other men in the case and not involved with their actions, adding that he hadn’t even read the leaflets.

Ham Sunrith, Leang Sokcheoun’s attorney, said his client was innocent and had been convicted without evidence.

“I would like the court to drop the charges and free him so he can support his family, who are dependent upon him,” he said.

Am Sam Ath, a senior monitor at Licadho, said yesterday that authorities had mistakenly arrested the wrong man.

The police report had identified a Vietnamese man living in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district named “Leang Sokly, called Chhoeun”, as a suspect.

Leang Sokcheoun is Khmer and lives in Sen Sok district, Licadho has said.

“We are sorry for the court’s decision to sentence him to two years in prison, and we hope that the Appeal Court will dismiss the accusations and free him,” Am Sam Ath said.

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