Nov 14, 2007

Khmer Krom: Appeal For Fair Trial

After a short one hour hearing, Tim Sa Khorn has been sentenced to one year imprisonment in a trial that appears to fall short of accepted international standards.

The Hague, 8 November 2007 - Buddhist Abbot Tim Sa Khorn was brought before the People’s Court of Justice of the An Giang Province (Vietnam) today to be tried for “Sabotaging the unification policy” under Article 87 of Vietnam’s Penal Code

Tim Sa Khorn, a prominent Khmer Krom religious figure and human rights defender, had disappeared on 30 June 2007 after having been disrobed by the Cambodian religious authorities.

On the day of his disappearance, Tim Sa Khorn was summoned to the office of the religious head of the Takeo Province (Cambodia). Once arrived, he was disrobed in the presence of religious and lay officials who had come from the capital. He was not allowed to challenge this decision.

Eyewitnesses later saw men in uniforms force Tim Sa Khorn to enter a car. He had not been seen since this event, until his trial on 08 November 2007.

On 03 July 2007, a spokesperson for the Cambodian Minister of Interior announced that Tim Sa Khorn had returned to Vietnam of his own free will.

A month later, on 02 August 2007, the Vietnamese authorities announced that Tim Sa Khorn had been arrested for ‘illegally entering the country” but did not provide any information as to his health or whether he would be tried.

Despite numerous requests from UNPO and United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Vietnamese authorities have not disclosed information on the detention of Tim Sa Khorn.

With barely any forewarning, it was announced by Vietnamese authorities that he would stand trial on 08 November 2007. The trial lasted scarcely an hour. During the trial, Tim Sa Khorn was asked to repeat a text prepared in advance and read out by the judge. Following this, Tim Sa Khorn was sentenced to one year’s imprisonment.

Crucially, the defendant was denied appropriate legal representation and time to prepare and present his defence , including the opportunity to present his own witnesses or cross-examine prosecution witnesses. Moreover, despite Tim Sa Khorn and his family having been out of Vietnam since 1979, the witnesses whose testimonies were retained by the court against him were local Vietnamese citizens. Finally, it appears Tim Sa Khorn has been denied the right to appeal.

Holding the defendant incommunicado during his detention (more than four months) and denying repeated requests by his family (namely his father and brother) for visitation rights appears to be a grossly disproportionate and unjustified treatment, given the nature of the charges and the sentence.

By repeatedly refusing to release information on the case and announcing the trial with little prior notice to the international community, Vietnam has not demonstrated the levels of transparency consistent with the country’s commitment to human rights.  

Given the information received, it is clear that Tim Sa Khorn did not receive a fair trial. Evidence strongly suggests that a number of articles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Vietnam has ratified, were breached, including articles 9 and 14. These articles guarantee, amongst other things, the right to a timely trial, the right to contest one’s detention before a court, and the right to a fair trial with access to legal counsel, and the right to present and cross-examine witnesses.

UNPO therefore kindly appeals to the Vietnamese authorities to:

-Grant Tim Sa Khorn the right to appeal the judgement enshrined in Article 14 of the ICCPR;

-Grant Tim Sa Khorn access to legal counsel of his choosing;

-Implement the full procedures and rights, as set out by the ICCPR, in any possible appeal or retrial,  including legal representation for Tim Sa Khorn, the right to speak in his own defence, and the opportunity to present and cross-examine witnesses;

-Allow visitation rights to Tim Sa Khorn whilst in detention.