An appeals court in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh on Friday turned down a request by a jailed opposition parliamentarian that it overturn a prison term imposed in connection with a border dispute with neighboring Vietnam.
Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) lawmaker Um Sam An was handed a two-and-a half year sentence and a 4 million riel (U.S. $976) fine in October for “inciting discrimination” and “inciting social instability.”
The charges arose from accusations posted on the lawmaker’s Facebook page that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) had failed to stop land encroachment by Vietnam and used improper maps to demarcate the border between the two former colonies of France.
Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen had ordered police in April to arrest anyone accusing the government of using “fake” maps to cede national territory to Vietnam, which invaded and occupied Cambodia in 1979 to overthrow the rule of the Khmer Rouge.
In rejecting Um Sam An’s appeal on Dec. 23, Seng Sivutha—president of the Hearing Council of the Appellate Court—said that the parliamentarian’s actions had brought disorder to society and damaged the government’s reputation and dignity.
Defense attorney Hem Socheat said however that the appellate court’s move in upholding the judgment of the lower court was politically motivated and had demonstrated bias against his client.
“We see this as unfair,” Hem Socheat told reporters following the announcement of the court’s decision. “The courts always behave like this.”
“The courts say they are independent and act according to the law, but for my clients who are involved in political cases, the courts always take prompt action by detaining, arresting, and prosecuting them.”
“I have never seen a court use its independent power to free someone unless a political solution has been reached,” he said, adding that he will now appeal to Cambodia’s Supreme Court to secure his client’s release.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, Cambodia-based political observer Kim Sok said that the rejection of Um Sam An’s appeal only serves to strengthen the CPP ‘s campaign to destroy its political opposition and win favor with Vietnam.
“What they are doing here is pushing for Vietnam to reach its goals [for a favorable border demarcation] quickly in case the CPP loses political power in the near future, Kim Sok said.
“Thus, they will never allow Um Sam An, who is a prominent and outspoken member of the CNRP, to be released anytime soon,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.