Cam­bo­dian op­po­si­tion sen­a­tor on trial over Face­book post


A Cam­bo­dian op­po­si­tion sen­a­tor was de­nied bail and went on trial Fri­day over com­ments he posted on Face­book crit­i­ciz­ing a 36-year-old bor­der agree­ment with Viet­nam.

Hong Sok Hour faces up to 17 years in prison. His ar­rest on Aug. 15 was one of a se­ries of re­cent ac­tions taken against po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents of Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen.

Ap­pear­ing in court in an or­ange prison uni­form, a far cry from the tai­lored Western suit he was wear­ing when he was ar­rested, the sen­a­tor from the Cam­bo­dia Na­tional Res­cue Party said he has high blood pres­sure and other med­i­cal con­di­tions that re­quire med­i­ca­tion he was not get­ting in prison.

“I will not run away if you re­lease me on bail,” said Hong Sok Hour, who has been held in pre­trial de­ten­tion since his ar­rest.

Pre­sid­ing Judge Ros Piseth de­nied the bail re­quest with­out giv­ing a rea­son.

Hu­man Rights Watch and other in­ter­na­tional rights groups have called on author­i­ties to drop the case against Hong Sok Hour, say­ing he was wrong­fully charged and that pros­e­cut­ing him is part of the gov­ern­ment’s latest crack­down on the po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion.

Hong Sok Hour was ar­rested af­ter Hun Sen ac­cused him of trea­son for the online post­ing, which in­cluded the pur­ported text of a 1979 treaty with Viet­nam that de­clared that their mu­tual bor­der would be dis­solved. Hun Sen — who was for­eign min­is­ter at the time in a gov­ern­ment in­stalled by a Viet­namese oc­cu­pa­tion force that in­vaded Cam­bo­dia to oust the mur­der­ous Kh­mer Rouge regime — in­sisted the treaty was forged.

Hong Sok Hour was in­dicted on three charges in­clud­ing fal­si­fy­ing public doc­u­ments, us­ing fake doc­u­ments and in­cit­ing chaos. The charges carry max­i­mum sen­tences of 10 years, 5 years and 2 years, re­spec­tively.

The Cam­bo­dia Na­tional Res­cue Party has been seek­ing po­lit­i­cal gains by ac­cus­ing Viet­nam of en­croach­ing on Cam­bo­dian soil — a sen­si­tive topic that has ramped up ten­sions at the bor­der.

“Re­la­tions be­tween Cam­bo­dia and Viet­nam are po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive, but they are no ex­cuse for bring­ing crim­i­nal charges over a dis­puted doc­u­ment,” said Brad Adams, Asia di­rec­tor of Hu­man Rights Watch. “The Cam­bo­dian gov­ern­ment has al­ready pointed out that the doc­u­ment was in­ac­cu­rate and in a democ­racy the mat­ter should be left at that.”

Hong Sok Hour has de­nied the charges. He says he did not write the con­tentious doc­u­ment but down­loaded it from a web­site and in­cluded it on a video he posted on Face­book, think­ing the in­for­ma­tion was cor­rect, ac­cord­ing to his lawyer.

Hu­man Rights Watch and oth­ers fa­mil­iar with the orig­i­nal and posted doc­u­ments say the prob­lem was one of mis­trans­la­tion.

“There is no ev­i­dence, though, that Hong Sok Hour him­self cre­ated the in­ac­cu­rate text, that he was aware of in­ac­cu­ra­cies in it, or that his in­ten­tion in mak­ing it public was to cause any­thing more than fur­ther dis­cus­sions of the bor­der is­sue,” Hu­man Rights Watch said in a state­ment. “An ex­am­i­na­tion of the lan­guage used in the two texts strongly in­di­cates that the ver­sion posted by Hong Sok Hour is not a forgery, but a bad trans­la­tion back into Kh­mer of a poor trans­la­tion of the Kh­mer orig­i­nal into French or English.”

In re­cent months, Hun Sen has used his public speeches to de­liver what amounts to ar­rest or­ders, which are gen­er­ally car­ried out quickly. He said Hong Sok Hour’s post­ing of the ma­te­rial “amounts to trea­son.” Hun Sen has been in power for al­most three decades, and while Cam­bo­dia is for­mally demo­cratic, his gov­ern­ment is au­thor­i­tar­ian and known for in­tim­i­dat­ing op­po­nents.

“The pros­e­cu­tion of Hong Sok Hour con­tra­venes Cam­bo­dia’s obli­ga­tions on the rights to free­dom of ex­pres­sion and opin­ion,” Hu­man Rights Watch said, adding that Hun Sen has used the case as a pre­text to “crack down on the po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion and demon­strate that he can ar­rest and im­prison any­body, any­time.”


(Right) A pro­tester shouts slo­gans next to por­traits of Hong Sok Hour, a sen­a­tor from the op­po­si­tion Cam­bo­dia Na­tional Res­cue Party, in front of Ph­nom Penh Mu­nic­i­pal Court in Ph­nom Penh, Fri­day.

(Left) Hong Sok Hour, left, a sen­a­tor from the op­po­si­tion Cam­bo­dia Na­tional Res­cue Party, is es­corted by riot po­lice of­fi­cers at Ph­nom Penh Mu­nic­i­pal Court in Ph­nom Penh, Cam­bo­dia, Fri­day, Oct. 2.

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