The Cambodia Daily reported in its edition for 28-29 May 2011, that a court verdict raises many questions:
When the Court of Appeals issued its verdict Tuesday in the case of the preservationist Moeung Sonn, it managed to stun observers already resigned to the likely upholding of the lower court’s verdict. During those 6 minutes, though, the court did not simply maintain Mr. Sonn’s guilt, it demonstrated it could sentence a man on charges for which he was not tied.
In 2009, Mr. Moeung Sonn, the president of the Khmer Civilization Foundation, criticized that the new lamps were fixed at some places on Angkor Wat, and in a letter to the Prime Minister he called these new lights ugly and expressed concern that these lights might damage the temple of Angkor Wat by the heat they generate.
In response, the government filed charges of disinformation and incitement against him.
But he was only convicted for disinformation, the charges of incitement were dropped.
In response to a request to the Appeals Court to overturn this sentence, the charge of disinformation was now also dropped, but during the court hearings he was now convicted for incitement without any previous information to him or to his lawyer to prepare any defense – the charge that had been dropped during the original hearings.
Cambodia is a signatory member of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, where Article 14 of the Covenant says:
1. All persons shall be equal before the courts and tribunals. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, or of his rights and obligations in a suit at law, everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law. The Press and the public may be excluded from all or part of a trial for reasons of morals, public order (ordre public) or national security in a democratic society, or when the interest of the private lives of the parties so requires, or to the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice; but any judgment rendered in a criminal case or in a suit at law shall be made public except where the interest of juvenile persons otherwise requires or the proceedings concern matrimonial disputes or the guardianship of children.
2. Everyone charged with a criminal offense shall have the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.
3. In the determination of any criminal charge against him, everyone shall be entitled to the following minimum guarantees, in full equality:
- To be informed promptly and in detail in a language which he understands of the nature and cause of the charge against him;
- To have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defense and to communicate with counsel of his own choosing;
- To be tried without undue delay;
- To be tried in his presence, and to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing; to be informed, if he does not have legal assistance, of this right; and to have legal assistance assigned to him, in any case where the interests of justice so require, and without payment by him in any such case if he does not have sufficient means to pay for it;
- To examine, or have examined, the witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him;
- To have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court;
- Not to be compelled to testify against himself or to confess guilt.
Legal experts will work out whether or not the Cambodian Appeals Court has adhered to these rules, Cambodia is a signatory of the The United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights since 1992.
I provide here access to some pictures behind the whole affair. When I saw then I was really surprised, as the reports defending this experiment on lighting up Angkor Wat had spoken about small equipment, installed using existing holes in the stones, without drilling or any other possible damage to the stones.
On 26.7.2009 I had written in The Mirror:
When it comes to the interpretation of the workings of a “multi-party liberal democratic regime guaranteeing human rights and the respect of law” – as described in the Preamble of the Constitution – there is obviously a wide gap between different assumptions. The president of the Khmer Civilization Foundation, Mr. Moeung Sonn, considered it as his civic duty to ask critical questions about the fairly massive deployment of electrical equipment at the symbol of Khmer culture and World Heritage Site of Angkor Wat. He obviously did not foresee that his opinion would be considered as leading to public disturbance, so that he and others who shared this opinion – like Rasmei Kampuchea – might have to face the court; concerned that he might even have to go to prison, he went abroad.
In the previous week, we had also mirrored a voice from civil society, asking: If Those with a Role to Promote and Protect Culture Cannot Express Their Concerns about Culture, Who then Has the Rights to Do So?
Pictures are available here:
After loading the site by clicking on “here“, click on the white >> on the right side in the black field to see all 8 pictures; they are accompanied by Khmer text, and depending on your browser settings, and whether or not your system can display the fonts used, viewing the pictures may not be easy. If possible, I will try to correct this situation in a couple of days.