The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the 2018 bribery convictions of five current and former staffers of human rights group Adhoc, concluding the appeal process in a criminal case that critics have said failed to substantiate the charges.
“The Supreme Court has decided to uphold the verdict of the Court of Appeal,” Presiding Judge Nil Non announced on Friday, without detailing a reason for the decision.
Earlier this month, lawyers for the “Adhoc 5” said their clients should be vindicated since 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, 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. 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.
All 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 the 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.
Judge Non rejected a Court of Appeal prosecutor’s request to overturn the suspended prison sentence and enforce the three years and 10 months of the sentence that was not served.
Defense lawyers were not present in court Friday morning. Of the five appellants, only Soksan, a senior investigator at Adhoc, attended the verdict announcement.
“Today, I regret the decision of the Supreme Court while I had thought the Supreme Court would find justice for a group who has worked to promote human rights,” Soksan told reporters outside the court.
“The court’s decision to uphold our convictions shows that the Supreme Court has no discretion in making a decision to find justice for a civil society group,” he said.
Defense lawyer Sam Titseyha told CamboJA after the hearing that he was “disappointed” by the Supreme Court’s decision.
Chandaraty was not called as a witness during the lower court proceedings and “there was no element of bribery,” he said. “This decision has not provided justice to my clients.”