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Cambodia urged to release jailed human rights worker

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have urged the Cambodian government to immediately release a human rights worker who was sentenced to two years in prison for giving out anti-government leaflets. Leang Sokchouen, who works for the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), was convicted on charges of "disinformation" on Monday after a trial marked by numerous procedural flaws.Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) have called or Sokchoeun’s release in a joint statement.  “This conviction once again highlights the lack of independence and impartiality of the courts, which are all too often used as a tool against the less powerful, rather than to uphold their rights,” said Donna Guest, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific deputy director. Cambodian police arrested Sokchouen on 29 May on charges of involvement in the production and distribution of anti-government leaflets in Takeo province in January. He was held incommunicado for over 33 hours, despite numerous requests by his family and lawyer to visit him. Sokchouen was given a US$500 fine, plus a two-year prison sentence. “Unfounded charges of disinformation or defamation are well-worn tactics used by the Cambodian government to create a climate of fear,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President, added: “We reiterate our call to the Cambodian authorities to abolish the crimes of defamation and disinformation in Cambodian criminal law and ensure that the Criminal Code is not used to abusively restrict the right to freedom of expression.” Eric Sottas, Secretary General of OMCT, urged the Cambodian authorities to free the activist. “Leang Sokchouen should be immediately and unconditionally released as his detention is arbitrary and due process was blatantly violated throughout investigation and trial,” he said.