Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Cambodia: Opposition MP Jailed After Sham Trial

(New York, August 9, 2005) -- The conviction of opposition
parliamentarian Cheam Channy on charges of forming a "secret
army" is a blatant attempt to eliminate the political opposition,
Human Rights Watch said today.

Cheam Channy, a member of the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), was
sentenced to seven years imprisonment this morning after a half-
day trial Monday before Cambodia's National Military Court.

Channy's co-defendant, SRP activist Khom Piseth, was convicted
in absentia of the same charges and received a five-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 a European country.

"Cheam Channy's conviction before a military court was not only
grossly unfair, but poses a serious threat to Cambodia's
democracy," said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights
Watch. "A democracy without a political opposition is effectively
a dictatorship."

Human Rights Watch said that the trial judge, Military Court
President Ney Thol, conducted the trial in a visibly biased manner
and blatantly prevented Channy's lawyers from presenting a proper

The judge prohibited Channy's lawyers from calling witnesses to
testify on his behalf and cross-examining all of the prosecution
witnesses. Although the prosecution accused Channy of creating
illegal "armed forces," no evidence was presented in court that
anyone connected to the SRP?s Committee No. 14 had weapons or
had plotted or committed any act of violence.

"The trial was a complete sham," said Adams. "Once again
Cambodia's politicized judiciary has been used as a tool to silence
the opposition."

In July 2004, Prime Minister Hun Sen accused members of
Committee No. 14 of establishing a militant armed force. The SRP
had made no effort to conceal the existence of Committee No. 14,
a body of SRP activists that monitored 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.

In July 2004, Hun Sen publicly accused Channy and other SRP
members of forming an illegal secret army. In a closed session on
February 3, 2005, the National Assembly voted to lift the
parliamentary immunity of Sam Rainsy, along with SRP legislators
Channy and Chea Poch, enabling the three parliamentarians to be
prosecuted. Channy was arrested a few hours later and sent to the
Military Prison in Phnom Penh, where he has been detained since.
Rainsy and Poch immediately fled the country before arrest
warrants were issued.

The Military Court charged Channy with organized crime and
fraud under Cambodia's 1992 Criminal Code. The prosecution also
cited his alleged violation of a provision of the 1997 Law on
Political Parties which prohibits political parties from organizing
armed forces.

Under Cambodian law, the mandate of the Military Court covers
only military offenses committed by currently serving military
personnel. As a civilian charged with non-military offenses,
Channy is being unlawfully and arbitrarily detained and prosecuted
by the military court, Human Rights Watch said; nor should he be
detained in a military prison.

"This trial shows the extent of the government's vice-like grip over
the Cambodian judiciary," said Adams. "In political cases, the
courts are simply unable or unwilling to hold anything resembling
a fair trial, and to judge cases on their facts."

The trial of Cheam Channy comes on the heels of another
controversial trial, in which two men were convicted on August 1
on charges of murdering Cambodian union leader Chea Vichea
without any eyewitness testimony or forensic evidence.

"These two trials, within a week of each other, bode extremely
badly for the upcoming Khmer Rouge tribunal, in which
Cambodian judges will play a key role alongside foreign ones,"
said Adams. "The current state of the judiciary simply does not
justify any faith that Cambodian judges involved in the Khmer
Rouge tribunal will be able to act professionally and independently
of the government."

History of Attacks on the Opposition

Outspoken opposition leader Sam Rainsy and members of
Cambodia's ruling coalition government have had a history of
fractious relations. Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy
were founding members of the royalist party, Funcinpec. Rainsy
was named Minister of Finance by Ranariddh after the Funcinpec
victory in the 1993 U.N.-sponsored election, but was sacked in
1994. In June 1995, Rainsy was expelled from the National
Assembly after Ranariddh had him removed from the party. Rainsy
subsequently established his own opposition party, now called the
SRP. Rainsy and Ranariddh formed an alliance against the ruling
Cambodia People's Party (CPP) for both the 1998 and 2003
elections, but in each case Ranariddh eventually joined a coalition
government with Hun Sen and Rainsy remained in opposition.

Rainsy has been subject to constant threats of violence and arrest.
The most extreme attack occurred on March 30, 1997, when a
peaceful rally led by Rainsy against judicial corruption was
attacked by grenade throwers, leaving at least 16 dead and 150
injured. Rainsy was the clear target of the attack but survived when
his bodyguards fell on top of him. Hun Sen's bodyguard unit was
present at the rally dressed in full riot gear, something not
previously done, suggesting they expected the attack. United
Nations and U.S. FBI investigations established that Hun Sen's
bodyguards allowed the grenade throwers to pass through their
lines, but later stopped at gunpoint individuals who attempted to
pursue them.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, leader of the CPP, has frequently called
for Rainsy to be arrested, including after the 1997 grenade attack.
He also staged a bloody coup against Ranariddh, his co-prime
minister, in July 1997. More than 100 Funcinpec members were
extra-judicially executed by Hun Sen's forces, many found bound
and blindfolded. Ranariddh fled into exile for nine months and was
convicted in absentia in a show trial before the National Military
Court. He was pardoned in a political deal paving the way for
national elections in July 1998 that resulted in the formation of a
coalition government by the CPP and Funcinpec.

In 2003, Funcinpec again entered into a power-sharing agreement
with the CPP after inconclusive national elections, in which no one
party received the required two-thirds majority needed to form a
new government. Within days of parliamentary approval of the
new coalition government in July 2004, Hun Sen accused members
of SRP's Committee No. 14 of establishing a secret army.


Blogger LA Woman said...

Where do you get this news from? What is the difference between Amnesty International and the Human Rights Watch? I think that it's great that you are reporting about news we NEVER hear about but is very important. Too much is slipped through the cracks. Practically speaking, what can we do? Write letters? Hold rallies? Donate? what do you suggest?

10:20 PM  

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