Press ReleaseLICADHO Staff Convicted of Disinformation after Show Trial
Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
September 2, 2010 - The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) condemns the conviction on disinformation charges of LICADHO employee Mr. Leang Sokchouen. This politically-motivated decision has no basis in fact or law, and underscores the dire state of Cambodia’s judiciary. The disproportionate two-year prison sentence also sends a disturbing message to members of Cambodian civil society.
Sokchouen was accused of distributing anti-government fliers in Takeo Province on January 4, 2010. Sokchouen was a longtime acquaintance of co-defendant Tach Khong Phoung, but consistently testified that he had no knowledge on the flier incident. The so-called evidence provided by the police against Sokchouen consisted of a simple list of phone numbers claiming Sokchouen and Tach Khong Phoung had called each other.
Another defendant, Tach Vannak, initially claimed while detained at the Ministry of Interior’s National Police that Sokchouen was involved in distributing the fliers.
However, Vannak retracted part of his statement in court yesterday, saying that he only implicated Sokchouen because of false promises made by police interrogators. He claimed police promised him that he would be allowed to go back to his family in exchange for his cooperation.
Despite this, Judge Cheng Bunly ignored Vannak’s repudiation, and the police interrogation statement was used as the sole “evidence” to convict Sokchouen.
“This case illustrates just how courts are refusing to take into account duress and deceit during police interrogations,” said Naly Pilorge, Director of LICADHO. “The defendant claims there was police misconduct, yet the judge simply ignored what was said in his courtroom and instead relied on police paperwork.”
The trial was marked by numerous other deficiencies.
The prosecution produced no in-court witness testimony or evidence. The judge relied entirely on written statements and four alleged witness statements from police officers. None of these individuals were ever called to court by the investigating judge.
By all appearances, the investigating judge did not do any investigative work on the case whatsoever. This is contrary to the spirit of Article 127 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which states that an investigating judge “has the obligation to collect inculpatory as well as exculpatory evidence.” This oversight left the trial judge to rely entirely on police investigation report - written before the suspects were questioned or arrested.
Conversely, the Sokchouen’s defense team provided extensive in-court testimony, including evidence that Sokchouen was in Phnom Penh - not Takeo - on January 4, 2010.
The judge stated that in-court testimonies by the three accused “could not be trusted” and based his decision entirely upon the police report and interrogation. Article 118 of the Code of Criminal Procedure states that police reports can be used for “information only,” but that they may also be considered as evidence if they are not “proven false.” Despite strong evidence that the police report was indeed false, the judge failed in his duty to evaluate its veracity. He simply accepted the report as truth.
“It’s clear that this case was decided from the outset, regardless of what was to be brought during trial” said Dr. Pung Chhiv Kek, President of LICADHO. “On its face, it’s an absolutely appalling example of Cambodia’s courts lack of independence. Given the involvement of an NGO staff member combined with the heavy prison sentence, I am concerned that someone may be trying to send a message.”
The case was marked with procedural irregularities from the beginning. Sokchouen was arrested without prior notice early on a Saturday morning, allowing authorities an excuse to keep him in extended incommunicado detention. He was detained within the Ministry of Interior’s National Police Headquarter for more than 33 hours without access to a lawyer, a clear violation of Article 98 of the Code of Criminal Procedure.
Most shockingly, the official investigation report did not even confirm that police arrested the correct man: investigators identified the suspect in the alleged phone calls as “Mr. L. Sokly,” a Vietnamese national living in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district. Sokchouen is a Khmer national living in the SenSok district.
Sokchouen’s lawyer also highlighted another irregularity in the case file: a Ministry of Interior’s informant had misidentified a mug shot to be Sokchoeun when it clearly was not. The court however simply decided to ignore these anomalies.
In light of the numerous problems with his trial, Sokchouen intends to file an appeal. LICADHO urges the court of appeal to properly examine all evidence and to decide this case based upon the law. Under this standard, Sokchouen’s conviction can only be reversed.
For more information, please contact:
- Dr. Pung Chhiv Kek, President of LICADHO, 012 802 506
- Mr. Am Sam Ath, LICADHO Technical Supervisor, 012 327 770