Cambodia sentences opposition candidate to 2 years for forgery

A provincial court in Cambodia sentenced an opposition candidate in the June 5 commune council elections to two years in prison on charges of faking the documents necessary to apply for his candidacy, RFA has learned.

Ouk Savarin was running for a seat on the Ansa Chambok Commune Council in the western province of Pursat’s Krakor district as a member of the Candlelight Party, which has emerged as the main opposition to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party. 

The Pursat Provincial Police arrested him on March 10 and he has been in prison since. The Pursat Provincial Court delivered the sentence last week.

“This is a politically motivated case, because my father never had a problem in the village or the district,” Ouk Savarin’s son Ouk Sao Sopheara told RFA’s Khmer Service. “But ever since he joined the Candlelight Party, there has been a lot of oppression and persecution happening to my father, when he went out to recruit candidates.”

Ouk Sao Sopheara said his father was put in an overcrowded detention cell and is not receiving enough food, raising concerns among his family members about his health.

His relatives will meet with a lawyer on Tuesday to discuss an appeal. They said that the accusations against Ouk Savarin are baseless.

Rights workers following this case and others like it told RFA that the authorities often employ vague evidence at trial and do not follow normal procedures.

The cases are meant to prevent the defendants from exercising their political rights, Chak Chetra of the local office of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (Licadho) told RFA.

“On behalf of civil society organizations, we see that accusations against activists, as well as those with tendencies contrary to the ruling party, as a violation of their political rights,” Chak Chetra said. 

“In general, activities of the political opposition seem to be restricted in the pre-election period, and we see that as more of a political issue than a legal one,” he said. 

Ouk Savarin is the third Candlelight Party commune council candidate from Pursat to have been arrested since March. Chhuon Chhoeung, a candidate for Sre Stok commune chief in Kandieng district, and Hem Chhil, a candidate for Kandieng’s Sya commune council, were also arrested. 

Hem Chhil was arrested for illegally pumping water from a pond. His 15-year-old son, Pum Daran, was also detained on charges of illegal fishing. He was released on May 4. Hem was released on bail by the Battambang Provincial Court of Appeals on July 21. 

Hem Chhil told RFA that he is happy to be out but said had done nothing wrong. 

“I understand that this is a political matter, because I am not at fault,” he said.

“I pumped the water from the pond and others did the same, so why was it only me who was arrested and imprisoned? I still belong to the Candlelight Party, I still help the people and hope that one day we will win,” he said.

In the June 5 election, the Candlelight Party won about 20 percent of the seats that were open on local commune councils. Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party won five times as many. 

Despite the landslide, opposition leaders have expressed optimism about the party’s chances in next year’s general elections, when Cambodians will choose members of the country’s National Assembly.

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