Thursday, 3 February 2011

Cambodian justice queried

via CAAI

Published: 3/02/2011

From the outset the additional charge of espionage slapped on Veera Somkhwamkid and his secretary Ratree Pipatanapaiboon by the Cambodian authorities, smelled fishy.

The two were among a group of seven Thais, including Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth, who were on a trip to investigate Thai villagers' complaints of alleged border intrusion in Sa Kaeo province by Cambodian forces and civilians, when they were arrested by the Cambodian military on Dec 29. They were all initially charged with illegal entry and trespassing in a military area.

No explanation was given why these two were singled out to face the espionage charge, despite the fact that all the seven Thais were on the same trip and at the same spot when they were stopped and apprehended by Cambodian forces. Hence the assumption that the charge was fabricated, probably to teach them a lesson for their open hostility to Cambodia.

Mr Veera is a co-leader of the ultra-nationalist Thai Patriots Network and has been very outspoken against the 2000 Memorandum of Understanding on boundary demarcation between Thailand and Cambodia.

He had been arrested once before by the Cambodians for illegal intrusion, but had been released shortly afterward.

Ms Ratree is also a member of the network which has been spearheading an anti-Cambodian and anti-Abhisit government campaign together with the People's Alliance for Democracy.

Tuesday's conviction of Mr Veera and Ms Ratree with tough prison terms by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on all the three charges was not surprising, given the fact that the case has been politicised by the Cambodian government for reasons that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen should be fully aware of.

The lawyer of the two Thai defendants, Nathaporn Toprayoon, said that he would appeal the sentence. However, he admitted he was puzzled why his clients were given different jail terms - eight years for Mr Veera and six years for Ms Ratree - despite the fact that they had been arrested at the same time and charged with the same offence.

The only explanation to his query is that this was Cambodian-style justice.

Cambodia's opposition leader Sam Rainsy should be a suitable authority to speak about the Cambodian justice system, after having been tried in absentia and sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of 8 million riel (60,000 baht) early last year, on charges of fuelling racial tensions and destroying demarcation posts on the Cambodian-Vietnamese border.

Government critics and other opposition MPs in Cambodia who faced defamation charges, could also join Mr Rainsy's bandwagon to echo the problems of rule of law and the Cambodian judiciary.

In last year's report, New York-based Human Rights Watch said that as most judges and prosecutors in Cambodia were members of the ruling Cambodian People's Party, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and other high-level government figures had been able to use the court system to target opposition leaders, activists and journalists with defamation suits. Such an assessment clearly paints the Cambodian justice system in a negative light.

If the entire Cambodian court drama was meant to shame and discredit Thailand in the eyes of the international community, it has done just the opposite. The drama has, once again, exposed the weakness of the Cambodian judiciary as just a political tool of Hun Sen.

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