A Phnom Penh court on Thursday agreed to a prosecution request to consider filing more serious charges against a U.S.-based Cambodia dissident accused of instigating an armed revolt against Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Sourn Serey Ratha, who leads the Khmer People Power Movement (KPPM), was initially charged with incitement to commit a crime based on leaflets distributed to the public in August last year calling on the Cambodian armed forces to turn their guns against the “dictator” instead of against people protesting over disputed general elections.
Prosecutors said Sourn Serey Ratha had directly referred to Hun Sen in his leaflets although he did not name him.
After a two-day hearing, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ordered a reinvestigation into the case with the prospect of criminal conspiracy charges to be filed against the dissident.
Presiding judge Top Chhunheng made the ruling following a request by prosecutors for another judge to re-investigate the case with the possibility of framing new charges on Sourn Serey Ratha that could result in up to 10 years' imprisonment if convicted.
Deputy prosecutor Meas Chan Piseth told the court that by mentioning “dictator” in his leaflets, Sourn Serey Ratha had directly referred to Hun Sen.
But the Khmer-American dissident’s lawyer Sok Sam Oeun said the word was used to refer to a broader group of “bad people.”
Sourn Serey Ratha, in his leaflets, had urged the people to distribute yellow roses to security forces deployed across the capital Phnom Penh following mass protests against widespread irregularities in July 2013 general elections, in which Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party was declared winner.
Sourn Serey Ratha advised the security forces to “turn your guns against the dictator.”
Reacting to the court decision on Thursday, Sourn Serey Ratha said it was an “unjust” move and likened it to a human rights abuse.
"Previously they charged me with incitement to commit criminal offenses but they didn't have any evidence. So now they changed the charge to conspiracy," he told RFA's Khmer Service.
"I want to ask the court what have I done to be charged with conspiracy. I am no traitor. All I have done is to seek freedom and protect Cambodian sovereignty."
Sok Sam Oeun said the court had not provided any evidence to back any charge of criminal conspiracy against his client.
He said although the court had the right to conduct further investigations, the case should have been dropped as there was no evidence to pin down his client on charges of incitement.
"After finding no evidence and then ordering a new investigation, it appears to be a human rights abuse,” Sok Sam Oeun said.
Abusing the law?
Local rights group Licadho’s investigator Am Sam Ath, who monitored the case, accused the court of abusing the law by ordering a new investigation aimed at framing fresh charges against the dissident.
Sourn Serey Ratha had filed, on behalf of the KPPM, a complaint with the Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) two years ago accusing Hun Sen of “crimes against humanity” but it was eventually dropped.
The complaint alleged that the Cambodian government has forcibly evicted more than 100,000 people from land the group says they have “legal title” to, and that members of the government are personally profiting from the use and sale of such land.
The U.S.-based group cited “credible reports” of beatings, unjustified imprisonment, and killings of individuals who question or legally resist the forced evictions.
The KPPM’s complaint is believed to have upset Hun Sen.
Government critics and Cambodia radio station chief Mam Sonando was arrested in July 2012 soon after he returned home from witnessing and reporting on the filing of the complaint at the ICC on June 22.
He was released in March last year after a court quashed his conviction for alleged involvement in a secession plot.
Reported by Tep Soravy for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.