Opposition politician sentenced to two years in prison

Ouk Savarin was running in the 5 June municipal elections in Pursat province, but was arrested on charges of falsifying documents. His family slams the conditions of his detention. Two other Candlelight Party candidates have been jailed for political reasons In the same province.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A court in Cambodia has sentenced an opposition politician to two years in prison for falsifying documents.

Ouk Savarin was running with the Candlelight Party for a council seat in Ansa Chambok, a city in the western province of Pursat. He was arrested on 10 March, and sentenced by a provincial court last week. The election took place on 5 June.

“Ever since he joined the Candlelight Party,” he has experienced “a lot of oppression and persecution,” said his son, Ouk Sao Sopheara, speaking to Radio Free Asia (RFA).

His father was put in an overcrowded jail and has been denied adequate food. The family, for whom the charges are unfounded, will discuss filing an appeal with a lawyer.

Several human rights groups have followed the case, noting that the evidence presented in this case was weak, that the authorities failed to follow normal procedures, preventing the defendants from exercising their rights.

For Chak Chetra of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights, “the activities of the political opposition seem to be restricted in the pre-election period, and we see that as more of a political issue than a legal one.”

In Pursat province, Ouk Savarin is the third Candlelight Party candidate to be arrested since March. Chhuon Chhoeung, who was running in Sre Stok, and Hem Chhil, a candidate for the Sya city council, also ended up in prison.

Hem Chhil was arrested on charges of illegally pumping water from a pond. His 15-year-old son was also detained for illegal fishing. He was released on 4 May, while Hem was released on bail by the Battambang Provincial Court of Appeal on 21 July.

"It's clear to me that it's a political issue, because I'm not to blame,” Hem told RFA. “I pumped the water from the pond and others did the same, so why was it only me who was arrested and imprisoned? I still belong to the Candlelight Party; I still help the people and hope that one day we will win.”

In the 5 June elections, the Candlelight Party won about 20 per cent of the seats in local municipalities, while most went to the ruling Cambodian People's Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen who has run the country by repressing the opposition for almost 40 years.