LICADHO employee, Leang Sokchouen, at the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal

Leang Sokchouen at the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal. Photo by LICADHO.

Yesterday, I attended Leang Sokchouen’s trial at the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal. Sokchouen is a LICADHO employee who was charged with disinformation (under the UNTAC Penal Code) in September 2010. Here an extract of the LICADHO press release issued after the trial court ruling:

Sokchouen was accused of distributing anti-government fliers in Takeo Province on January 4, 2010. Sokchouen was a longtime acquaintance of co-defendant Tach Khong Phoung, but consistently testified that he had no knowledge on the flier incident. The so-called evidence provided by the police against Sokchouen consisted of a simple list of phone numbers claiming Sokchouen and Tach Khong Phoung had called each other.

Another defendant, Tach Vannak, initially claimed while detained at the Ministry of Interior’s National Police that Sokchouen was involved in distributing the fliers.

However, Vannak retracted part of his statement in court yesterday, saying that he only implicated Sokchouen because of false promises made by police interrogators. He claimed police promised him that he would be allowed to go back to his family in exchange for his cooperation.

(…) The prosecution produced no in-court witness testimony or evidence. The judge relied entirely on written statements and four alleged witness statements from police officers. None of these individuals were ever called to court by the investigating judge.

By all appearances, the investigating judge did not do any investigative work on the case whatsoever. This is contrary to the spirit of Article 127 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which states that an investigating judge “has the obligation to collect inculpatory as well as exculpatory evidence.” This oversight left the trial judge to rely entirely on police investigation report – written before the suspects were questioned or arrested.

Conversely, the Sokchouen’s defense team provided extensive in-court testimony, including evidence that Sokchouen was in Phnom Penh – not Takeo – on January 4, 2010.

The judge stated that in-court testimonies by the three accused “could not be trusted” and based his decision entirely upon the police report and interrogation. Article 118 of the Code of Criminal Procedure states that police reports can be used for “information only,” but that they may also be considered as evidence if they are not “proven false.” Despite strong evidence that the police report was indeed false, the judge failed in his duty to evaluate its veracity. He simply accepted the report as truth.

In appeal, Sokchouen was represented by two LICADHO lawyers, who were given less than 24 hours to prepare. During the hearing, Sokchouen’s lawyers requested bail. However, after a five minute discussion, the judges refused citing possible public disorder. The judges, along with the defence, interviewed Sokchouen. In under two hours – with two of the judges regularly dozing off – the court announced that their final verdict would be communicated on July 14th at 8am. While about 100 people showed up to support Sokchouen, only a small number were allowed in the court room despite it being a public trial.

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