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From Afar, Rights Experts Frets for Election, Courts

Lao Mong Hay is a senior researcher at the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong. He is a close observer of Cambodian politics and policy. He spoke to VOA Khmer in a face-to-face interview in Hong Kong in April. The following are excerpts from the interview.

Q. What is your view on Cambodia’s July election?

A. I am observing from overseas that both the Cambodian people and some political parties are working closely together, but I slightly regret that until now there are not yet electoral campaigns. Some major political parties seem to have already started campaigning. Non-ruling party activists have received threats or intimidation, or have even been killed. These cases affect a smooth, free and fair election in Cambodia.

Q. What is your opinion on whether Cambodia’s election will be free, fair and acceptable?

A. First, we should avoid violence and ensure activists and political parties have freedom for their actions on campaigning, but we should reduce conflict against each other during the campaign and avoid some problems, those that are no involved with political party issues, such as morality and gambling. I think that these issues affect Prime Minister Hun Sen, but if we want to solve moral issues, such as gambling, we should wait until the end of the elections, and we can discuss together to find solutions without involving politics.

Second, involving the land issue, I really admire Prime Minister Hun Sen, now that he has a new idea to resolve the land issues from powerful persons. This is good, but should be followed up every day, not just in the time of the election run-up, resolving a few cases. When the election ends, the cases end too. It is not good, because land-grabbing happens every day.

Q. The Sam Rainsy and Norodom Ranariddh parties have both experienced problems in the courts. Foreign Minister Hor Namhong has sued Sam Rainsy for defamation and disinformation, and Prince Norodom Ranariddh has been sentenced in absentia to 18 months in prison over embezzlement. How do these cases affect the election?

A. What I think is that I’m not concerned with the law suits [of individuals] against each other. But what I’m concerned with is the Cambodian courts, whether they are independent or not. This is a big problem. I heard that some people are concerned about law suits and their effect on the election. But if the courts were independent, not under money or influence of the government, we should resolve these cases. My understanding is that the courts are not yet independent. For example: the case between Sam Rainsy and Hor Namhong. Many prosecutors and judges are [Cambodian People’s Party], so that is why the courts are biased.

Q. How will a biased court affect the two opposition leaders?

A. It depends on whether we keep such cases from affecting independence or not. The court has many means, such as the Appeals Court, Municipal Court and Supreme Court. Ranariddh has fled the country and is now living in exile in Malaysia. In March 2007, the Court of First Instance, in Phnom Penh, tried him in absentia, and, as was widely expected, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison and ordered to pay damages to Funcinpec. He appealed this court ruling, but in October the Court of Appeals ruled against his appeal. He then appealed the ruling to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has now started its proceedings, and it is expected that this appeal will be heard sometime in July, around the time of the election. Ranariddh cannot return to Cambodia to directly lead his party and its electoral campaign lest he be arrested and put in jail.

And concerning Sam Rainsy’s case, why did the court promptly [address it]. What about the many cases the court ignores?

So that is why Cambodia’s courts are not independent and are biased.