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International groups condemn sentencing of local rights staffer

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - New York, September 1, 2010 - Four international human rights organizations urged the Cambodian government to immediately release Leang Sokchouen, staff person of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), who was sentenced to prison on disinformation charges on August 30, 2010.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) deplored Mr. Sokchoeun's detention in a joint statement today. Sokchoeun's August 30 trial was marked by numerous procedural flaws as well as violations of fair trial provisions in Cambodian and international law.

"This conviction once again highlights the lack of independence and impartiality of the courts, which are all too often used as a tool against the less powerful, rather than to uphold their rights," said Donna Guest, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific deputy director.

Cambodian police arrested Sokchouen on May 29, 2010, on charges of involvement in the production and distribution of anti-government leaflets in Takeo province in January. He was held incommunicado for over 33 hours, despite numerous requests by his family and lawyer to visit him. At his August 30 trial, Sokchouen was sentenced to two years in prison and a 2 million riel fine (US$500) on charges of disinformation.

"Unfounded charges of disinformation or defamation are well-worn tactics used by the Cambodian government to create a climate of fear," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"We reiterate our call to the Cambodian authorities to abolish the crimes of defamation and disinformation in Cambodian criminal law and ensure that the Criminal Code is not used to abusively restrict the right to freedom of expression," said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH president.

"Leang Sokchouen should be immediately and unconditionally released as his detention is arbitrary and due process was blatantly violated throughout investigation and trial," added Eric Sottas, Secretary General of OMCT.

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