Lawyers for five current and former staffers of human rights group Adhoc on Friday argued before the Supreme Court that their clients’ 2018 convictions should be overturned because the woman who they were accused of bribing never testified in court.
The woman, Khom Chandaraty, was the alleged mistress of opposition leader Kem Sokha, both central figures for the prosecution in the case against the “Adhoc 5,” although neither were questioned as witnesses.
Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan and Lim Mony — who still work as senior staffers at Adhoc — and former Adhoc employee Nay Vanda were found guilty of bribing a witness in 2018, while Ny Chakrya, another former Adhoc staffer who worked for the National Election Committee at the time of the five’s 2016 arrest, was convicted as an accomplice to bribery.
The five were jailed for 14 months before their conviction in September 2018, when the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced them to a five-year suspended prison term, including 14 months of time served.
“During their criminal trial, the prosecution failed to present any of the witnesses mentioned in the case or provide any credible evidence to substantiate the charges,” Human Rights Watch said in June.
Lawyer Lor Chunthy, who is representing Ny Sokha, Soksan, Mony and Vanda, said the lower courts had failed to prove that the five were guilty since there was no evidence of or witnesses to the alleged bribery of Chandaraty.
“Where is the proof showing that she was a witness during the case?” he said during the hearing.
Chandaraty should never have been considered a witness because the prosecutor had summoned her for questioning as a suspect in a defamation case, Chunthy said.
“The court should consider overturning the convictions against my clients and deny the previous court’s decision,” he said.
The five current and former Adhoc officials were arrested in May 2016 by the Anti-Corruption Unit over allegations they had bribed Chandaraty to lie about an alleged affair she was having with former CNRP president Kem Sokha.
Chandaraty, a salon worker, had sought Adhoc’s help with accusations she was facing over defamatory comments allegedly made during a leaked phone recording between Chandaraty and Kem Sokha. After Adhoc gave her $204 to cover food and transportation costs to attend questioning by judicial officers in Phnom Penh, the ACU claimed the funds amounted to bribery. Chandaraty’s testimony was used to bring procurement of prostitution charges against Kem Sokha.
Initially Chandaraty, also known as Srey Mom, denied that it was her on the phone recording, which was leaked on social media in 2016. She changed her testimony after being summoned for questioning and said she was Kem Sokha’s mistress — an allegation Kem Sokha denied.
Ny Sokha, now president of Adhoc, told reporters after the hearing that he hoped Judge Nil Non would clear the convictions against him and his colleagues, since Non had served as a Khmer Rouge tribunal judge and had found justice for Cambodians.
“I will believe a decision of Judge Nil Non because he has experience,” he said.
“What the previous courts have decided, it is very unjust for us who work to serve society,” Ny
Sokha added, referring to his and his colleagues’ work as human rights advocates.
Ny Sokha and Soksan were present in court on Friday, while the three others appealing their convictions were not.
The Supreme Court will announce a verdict on November 18.