Supreme Court Upholds Baseless Conviction of LICADHO StaffCambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
May 25, 2012 - The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) denounces this morning's decision by the Phnom Penh Supreme Court to uphold Leang Sokchouen's groundless conviction and two-year prison sentence.
On August 30, 2010, the Takeo provincial court sentenced Sokchouen to two years in prison on charges of disinformation for allegedly assisting others in distributing political leaflets. The prosecution did not present any in-court witness testimony or credible evidence. The trial judge relied entirely on unconvincing written statements prepared by the Ministry of Interior's police officers, ignoring in-court testimony and strong evidence in favor of Sokchouen's innocence.
Following a two-hour long trial in Phnom Penh on June 30, 2011, appeals court judge Pol Sam Oeun issued a verdict upholding the lower court's sentence on July 14, 2011. The appeal court hearing again failed to reveal any credible evidence of Sokchouen's guilt.
Furthermore, the appeal court's verdict unexpectedly changed the original conviction against Sokchouen from disinformation, Article 62 under UNTAC's criminal code, to incitement, Article 495 under the new Penal Code.
This switch, announced for the first time during the appeal court's verdict, blatantly contradicts well-established principles of criminal law. Sokchouen was suddenly convicted of a crime which he had never had the opportunity to refute, under a provision that did not exist at the time of the alleged crime. The maneuver was especially improper because Cambodian law allows for an appeal court to re-determine facts. Sokchoeun could have potentially presented new witnesses and evidence to defend against the incitement charge had he been given any notice whatsoever.
None of these discrepancies troubled the Supreme Court today. After about a one hour long hearing that started at 9:00 AM, presiding judge Khim Pon read out a verdict upholding the appeal court's decision. In addition to repeating the appeal court's dismissal of exculpatory and inconvenient facts, for example the fact that the initial arrest warrant was not even in Sokchoeun's name, the Supreme Court stated that the appeal court was within its rights to change the charge at any time. The court oddly cited article 448 for this proposition. Article 448 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, however, says nothing about an appeal court's ability to make such changes. It is a provision about time limits, in a chapter about motions for review.
"The Supreme Court's swift endorsement of the appeal court's decision and its confusing reasoning is not so surprising," says LICADHO President Dr. Pung Chhiv Kek. "Sokchoeun's case has consistently revealed an utter lack of integrity by Cambodia's judiciary."
LICADHO believes that the Supreme Court's approval of the appeals court's decision again concedes that Sokchouen's disinformation conviction was unfounded from the beginning and that the Takeo Provincial Court should not have found him guilty.
"Sokchouen continues to maintain his innocence, as does LICADHO," says LICADHO Director Naly Pilorge. "This final rubber stamp on the outrageously flawed process that got us to this point is just not unexpected in light of Sokchoeun's two year ordeal."
Sokchoeun will have completed serving his two year sentence next week. He is scheduled to be released from prison on May 30, 2012.
For more information, please contact:
• Dr. Pung Chhiv Kek, President of LICADHO, 012 802 506
• Pilorge Naly, Director of LICADHO, 012 803 650
PDF format: Download full statement in English