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Licadho Decries Steep Court Sentence for Staff Member

Am Sam Ath is a senior Licadho monitor.
Am Sam Ath is a senior Licadho monitor.

The two-year jail sentence of a rights worker for Licadho will not deter the groups work, a senior Licadho monitor said Thursday.

Leang Sochoeun, a staff member of Licadho, was handed the sentence from the Takeo provincial court this week, on charges he participated in an anti-government leaflet distribution earlier this year.

“I do not think it impacts the human rights defense process of Licadho,” the monitor, Am Sam Ath, said as a guest on “Hello VOA.” “But what we regret is that the Takeo court convicted Leang Sochoeun without proper evidence, and the verdict also did not comply with court independence and legitimacy at all.”

Even the court's arrest warrant was flawed, he said. It called for the arrest of a person name Leang Sokly of Phnom Penh's Svay Pak commune, not Leang Sochoeun, who lives in Sen Sok commune.

Leang Sochoeun was charged with three other men for distributing leaflets earlier this year critical of the government's relationship with Vietnam and a celebration marking the January 7 anniversary of the Vietnamese-backed ouster of the Khmer Rouge.

Leang Sochoeun fainted after his verdict was read, and Licadho said the conviction had created “an atmosphere of fear.”

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said rights workers were subject to the same laws as everyone. “No one is above the law,” he said, adding that rights groups did not fully understand the case.

However, Am Sam Ath said rights workers do want law, governance and an independent court. They also want to work with the government, not against it.

Licadho recorded at least 66 cases of threats and intimidation against rights workers in 2008 and 2009.

A leaflet distribution was an expression of political views that should be protected, he said, noting that in the West, such acts rarely lead to imprisonment.