The Adhoc 5 were found guilty by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday and sentenced to five years in prison. They were charged with bribing a witness in the case of bailed Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha’s alleged affair with a hairdresser.
However, presiding judge Duch Sok Sarin ruled that as the defendants had served more than 14 months in pre-trial detention, their sentences would be suspended.
“The court sentences Ny Sokha, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan, Lim Mony, and Ny Chakrya each to five years in prison, but [the time spent in pre-trial detention] from May 2, 2016 until the accused were released on bail will count as served [and] the rest of the sentence is suspended,” said Sok Sarin.
He took into account the good work the Adhoc staff had done for Cambodian society over the years.
Four Adhoc staff members and a National Election Committee (NEC) employee, commonly known as the Adhoc 5, were released on bail on June 29 last year after having been detained for more than 14 months during the investigation.
They were accused of bribing the alleged mistress of Sokha, then vice-president of the opposition CNRP to lie about the affair.
The judge said the four Adhoc staff had pressured hairdresser Khom Chandaraty, who is also known as Srey Mom, to lie to officials about the affair at all stages of the investigation.
The judge said the Adhoc staff had prepared documents for Srey Mom to abscond abroad, while Chakrya of the NEC had contacted UN staff by telephone about the possibility of doing so.
“According to Chandaraty, she said she had had a sexual relationship with Kem Sokha, and with the help of an organised group she had been sent to Thailand."
“She said she was told to reject the leaked audio recording of a conversation between her and Kem Sokha. Chandaraty was pressured by four Adhoc staff into talking to the media and NGOs in order to make her keep her stance in telling lies at all stages of the procedure,” Judge Sok Sarin said.
The judge rejected the defence argument that said Chandaraty was a suspect in the case when she went to ask for Adhoc’s help, arguing that anyone could be a witness if that person was deemed necessary to the case.
Speaking outside court after the hearing, Ny Sokha said the verdict was unjust. “It is an unjust decision because, on the day of the hearing, the two most important witnesses were absent.
“This means the trial lacked argument and cross-examination, which is very important, and this is unacceptable,” he said, adding that Chandaraty was not called as a witness.
Mony said it was unjust for her because she had submitted strong defence arguments. “But the court did not consider them. Instead, it took the answers of [Chandaraty] who claimed she was a witness.
“Also, the [two witnesses] did not respect the court procedure. For us, we participated in all stages of the procedure the court required us to,” she said.
The Adhoc staff said they would discuss with their lawyers on the next steps.
Am Sam Ath, head of monitoring for Right Group Licadho said the court decision would discourage the staff of NGOs that work in the human rights sphere.
“I am sad for the decision of the Phnom Penh court today that convicted the five human rights defenders,” he said.
“This is the first case that human rights defenders who fulfilled their responsibility to defend human rights have been convicted and ended up in prison."
“If we look at the arguments in court, there was no concrete evidence levelled at them."
“This is a lesson for other human rights defenders. I believe this conviction will have an impact on other human rights defenders to be frightened and hesitant in fulfilling their duty,” Sam Ath said.
Human Rights Watch called for the charges against the Adhoc 5 to be dismissed, saying the case was politically motivated.
Its Asia director Brad Adams said: “These baseless convictions show that Prime Minister Hun Sen intends to persecute human rights defenders even after cementing his power through July’s sham election.
“It’s clear that Hun Sen’s pardon of political prisoners after the election was just a public relations effort to regain international legitimacy.”
Immediately after the conviction, 94 NGOs and civil societies released a joint statement condemning the convictions as “wrongful”.
“We call on the authorities to immediately and unconditionally overturn these convictions, and allow the four Adhoc staff members and NEC official to conduct their legitimate work to serve the Cambodian people unhindered, without threat or punishment,” the statement said.