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Courts Lambasted Ahead of Sam Rainsy Hearing

FILE - In this May 1, 2009 file photo, opposition party leader Sam Raisy, right, claps in front of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. A Cambodian court has sentenced Rainsy in absentia Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2010, to two years imprisonment for up

On the eve of a Supreme Court decision in a criminal case against the country’s main opposition leader, officials for human rights and legal organizations said the judiciary has not emerged as an independent branch of government.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to issue a decision in criminal charges against Sam Rainsy for uprooting markers on the Vietnamese border, for which he received a two-year jail sentence in absentia for the destruction of property and racial incitement.

He is facing another 10-year sentence for publishing a map on his website that purported to show Vietnamese encroachment, which the courts determined was fake and constituted disinformation.

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights on Tuesday said Sam Rainsy had his immunity stripped from parliament and was convicted of criminal charges with little evidence and to the benefit of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

“This is a showcase of the absence of any separation of powers of government in Cambodia,” Ou Virak, the head of the center, said in a statement. “What is most concerning is that the legislature, in removing his immunity, and the judiciary, in convicting him with little or no bases, have been the means through which this political end of the executive has been achieved.”

The convictions could leave Cambodia without its main opposition leader as the country approaches local elections in 2012 and a general parliamentary election in 2013, he said.

Wednesday’s hearing coincides with the visit of the UN’s envoy for human rights, Surya Subedi, who is in part looking at the role of the judiciary in human rights abuses.

Run Saray, executive director of the Legal Aid of Cambodia, said Tuesday the roles of the three branches of government are not clearly separate.

“I think the courts in Cambodia are not independent,” he said, “because if judges make decisions by their own will, they are punished by the government and removed from their positions.”

Representatives from several rights groups and legal defense organizations declined to comment on the upcoming case, saying they were hesitant to speak out about the courts for fear of reprisals.