Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Newly-Elected Mong Russei District Councilor To Serve Seven Years In Prison On “Plotting” Charges

Uth Choeun (right), a member of Khmer Will Party was declared councilor for Mong Russei District Council in Battambang Province on June 12, 2024 before he was convicted to seven years in prison over a plotting charge by the Battambang Provincial Court on June 13, 2024. (Supplied)
Uth Choeun (right), a member of Khmer Will Party was declared councilor for Mong Russei District Council in Battambang Province on June 12, 2024 before he was convicted to seven years in prison over a plotting charge by the Battambang Provincial Court on June 13, 2024. (Supplied)

Newly-elected Mong Russei district councilor Uth Choeun from the opposition Khmer Will Party was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for “plotting”, allegedly linked to the failed return of former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Sam Rainy in November 2019.

Battambang provincial court, which sentenced Choeun, also issued an arrest warrant for him, according to his wife, Seng Rathmony, who attended the court case to hear the verdict on Thursday.

“This is an injustice to my husband because he has never had ill intentions towards the government,” Rathmony said. “After the dissolution [of CNRP], he became a taxi driver but they [court] accused him of committing a crime,” she said.

She said her husband had just officially announced his position on Wednesday as a council member in Mong Russei district where Khmer Will Party won several seats in the recent provincial/municipal and district council election.

Speaking to CamboJA News by phone, Choeun said he had received news about the verdict and would ask his lawyer to appeal against the decision, asserting that he has “never gathered members”.

“I think it is unfair because I have done nothing wrong. I only stay at home and do business like normal,” he said. “Yes, they officially announced me as a councilor, and today [Thursday] they convicted me,” Choeun said.

Sam Vongdara, Battambang Candlelight Party chief, who attended the trial in May this year, said the court charged Choeun with plotting for allegedly gathering party supporters to welcome Sam Rainsy in 2019. However, Rainsy did not return as planned.

“It is a decision of the court, I dare not make any comment,” he said, adding that they were well-aware of how they can be prosecuted. “We regret that we will lose a representative of the villagers.”

Rights-based NGO Licadho region supervisor In Kongchet expressed concern that opposition party members are still “suffering” lawsuits and prosecution while trying to carry out their activities.

“It is a prosecution [of opposition members], a threat to break his spirit,” he said.

Kongchet, who attended Choeun’s trial in May, recalled that the latter told the court that he gave an interview to Radio Free Asia, saying that he planned to welcome Rainsy on November 9, but was in prison at the time.

He said Choeun was arrested in October 2019 and released on bail on November 14 that year, following former Prime Minister Hun Sen’s call to court officials to grant bail to opposition party leaders who were charged in connection with Sam Rainsy.

Last month, Battambang provincial Khmer Will Party member Phou Sovantha, who was supposed to run in the provincial council election, was arrested on defamation and incitement charges.

Deputy prosecutor Doung Saran declined to comment and referred to court spokesperson Chea Chanreaksmey, however, she could not field questions as she was busy in the meeting.

Khmer Will Party spokesperson Kimsour Phearith referred questions to their party secretary-general Kong Monika. He could not be reached for comment. Defense lawyer Im Phanna was also not available for comment.

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