Interview: ‘Winning is Based on The Judgment of the Public’

cambodia-choung-choungy-appeals-court-march-2017-crop.jpg Choung Choungy speaks with reporters after a hearing at the Appeals Court in Phnom Penh, March 22, 2017.

Choung Choungy has practiced law for more than a decade in Cambodia, where civil society groups routinely accuse the court system of lacking independence from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party government. He regularly defends opposition politicians, activists, and campaigners whose views oppose the government in cases widely seen as politically motivated. The lawyer’s most recent client is social commentator Kim Sok, who last week was sentenced to 18 months in prison on charges of defamation and incitement to cause social disorder after Prime Minister Hun Sen accused him of implying that the CPP had orchestrated the July 2016 murder of popular political pundit Kem Ley.

While Choung Choungy rarely wins cases the cases he takes on behalf of those targeted by the government, the lawyer says he feels an obligation to seek justice for his clients and provide them with equal rights before the law. He recently spoke to Neang Ieng of RFA’s Khmer Service about his work, and about the pressure he feels since being sentenced to prison in absentia after representing victims of a land dispute in Kandal province in 2011:

My clients … are activists who advocate and seek justice for society. As a result, powerful individuals try to make trouble for them. I am of the opinion that all of these activists are entitled to a good defense, but most lawyers dare not defend such cases.

For me, the meaning of my life is the extent to which I can contribute to seeking justice in society. That is my wish. As for my own financial needs, it is merely a secondary issue.

The Kandal Provincial Court sentenced me in absentia to two years in jail and 3 million riels (U.S. $730) in fines. I have filed an appeal … but so far, the court has yet to rehear it, so I am under the court’s pressure. This makes it feel difficult for me to carry out my work to the fullest of my ability. If I pursue a case actively or I am outspoken, such pressure will haunt me.

I rarely win most politically motivated cases, but I feel they are spiritual wins … My view of winning is based on the judgment of the public. When the public believes I defended a case well, it means I have won the hearts of the public. Therefore, when I do a good deed or strive to carry out my work, the public will see that I have performed well. That means I’m winning the case.

If your lifetime goal is simply enriching yourself, you shouldn’t be a lawyer and you should choose a different career. Those who want to be lawyers must set their goals clearly to contribute to the legal sector … As a lawyer, the most important thing is willing to be clean. This means that in our profession, we must never be corrupted or do anything deemed dishonest against our clients. This work is entirely based on honesty.

Translated by Sovannarith Keo.

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