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Five men convicted of "provocation" for distributing anti-government leaflets

(CCHR/IFEX) - On 4 August 2011, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted five men for distributing leaflets between 2008 and 2011 which criticized the Cambodian government (RGC) for its perceived ties with the government of Vietnam. The five men, Phon Sam Ath, So Khemarak, Ngor Menghong, Eang Samorn (also spelt Kieng Samorn) and Chem Bol, all aged between 21 and 27 years old, were convicted on charges of provocation to commit crimes under Article 495 of the Penal Code. Phon Sam Ath, the alleged mastermind of the plot, and Eang Samorn received two-year prison sentences whereas the other three men received prison sentences of 18 months. All five were fined two million riel (approx. US$487).

These are the latest in a series of convictions by the Cambodian courts of individuals said to have circulated anti-government material. In August 2010, four men - including a member of staff from the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights ("LICADHO") - were convicted for circulating leaflets in Takeo Province which also criticized perceived ties between the Cambodian and Vietnamese governments. The men denied distributing the leaflets. In December 2010, a United Nations World Food Programme employee - Seng Kunnaka - was convicted for sharing articles printed from a popular anti-government website with a small number of co-workers.

The leaflets in the current case, according to the 5 August edition of the "Phnom Penh Post", accuse Prime Minister Hun Sen of selling land to foreign countries and refer to the Prime Minister as a "traitor" and a "puppet of Vietnam". A lawyer for one of the five men has stated that his client denies distributing any leaflets.

There is some disparity in press reports about how many men spent time in pre-trial detention ahead of the 4 August verdict. On 5 August, "The Cambodia Daily" reported that Eang Samorn remains at large while "The Phnom Penh Post" reported that all five men were arrested in January or February. Regardless, the men who were arrested have been held in pre-trial detention for a period of five to six months in violation of Article 209 of the Criminal Procedure Code of Cambodia, which provides that the duration of pre-trial detention may not exceed half of the minimum sentence set by law for the charged misdemeanor; the minimum sentence for provocation to commit crimes is, under Article 495 of the Penal Code, six months' imprisonment.

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