Press ReleaseConviction of SRP Commune Chief: Courts used for political purpose
Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
March 22, 2009 - LICADHO condemns the Kampong Thom Provincial Court's conviction of former Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) commune chief Tuot Saron on a charge of kidnapping and illegal confinement. This prosecution and conviction is baseless and politically-motivated, LICADHO believes.
On Friday, March 20, Tuot Saron was convicted and sentenced to three years' imprisonment. Three other provincial SRP officials, who have all fled and are in hiding, were convicted in absentia of the same charge; two of them, Men Vannak and Hour Sarath, were also sentenced to three years' imprisonment, while the third, Thorn Rithy, was sentenced to five years in prison.
Tuot Saron, who was commune chief in Pongro commune in Baray district at the time of his arrest, was accused of involvement in the abduction and confinement of an SRP member, Tim Norn, who was being wooed to defect to the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP). Tuot Saron denied the charge, maintaining that he and the other SRP officials merely brought Tim Norn from Kampong Thom to Phnom Penh after she asked them for protection from intimidation from CPP officials.
Tuot Saron was unlawfully arrested, without a court warrant, in March 2008 one day after Prime Minister Hun Sen gave a speech accusing SRP of intimidating former party members who had defected to the CPP. Hun Sen referred to the alleged confinement of Tim Norn, and demanded that action be taken against those who had committed such "human rights abuses".
The conviction of Tuot Saron and the other three SRP officials relied solely on the testimony of Tim Norn, and no other prosecution witnesses testified during Friday's trial.
"From the beginning of this prosecution, there has been a severe lack of credible evidence that any crime actually occurred," said LICADHO director Naly Pilorge.
Two days after her alleged abduction in February 2008, Tim Norn was interviewed at length by staff of LICADHO and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Phnom Penh. At no time did she say that she had been abducted or otherwise mistreated by SRP officials in any way.
Tim Norn's subsequent complaint that she had been abducted, and the arrest of Tuot Saron, occurred amid an unprecedented defection campaign by the ruling CPP to persuade SRP members to quit the opposition party and join the CPP. Money and government positions were offered to entice defectors and, if that failed, intimidation and threats were used.
"There are compelling reasons to believe that the prosecution of Tuot Saron was politically-motivated, orchestrated by the government to intimidate and threaten opposition party officials and members in the run-up to the July 2008 national elections," said Naly Pilorge.
"Last week's show trial was a travesty of justice which once again shows how the ruling party manipulates the courts to maintain its stranglehold on power and eliminate its opponents," Pilorge continued. "This case will have long-lasting consequences for democracy in Cambodia - the imprisonment of an opposition party commune chief on false criminal charges sends a chilling message to the opposition and to voters throughout the country."
Tuot Saron is incarcerated in Kampong Thom prison where he has been since his arrest one year ago.
For more information, please contact:
• Naly Pilorge, LICADHO Director, 012-803-650
• Ham Sunrith, LICADHO Deputy Director of Monitoring & Protection, 012-988-959