Sun, Nov 30, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Human rights group wants Cambodian dissident set free

REPRIEVE REQUESTED Amnesty International appealed to the Thai government to release Sok Yoeun, who enjoys political refugee status

AFP , BANGKOK

Amnesty International urged the Thai government yesterday to grant a reprieve to a Cambodian dissident facing extradition to answer charges that he attempted to assassinate Cambodian premier Hun Sen.

A Thai appeals court on Friday ordered that Sok Yoeun, a member of Cambodia's opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), be extradited back to Cambodia despite his status as a UN political refugee.

"Following this worrying development, Amnesty International is making a last-minute appeal to the Thai authorities to respect Sok Yoeun's advanced age and ill health and permit him to rejoin his wife and children who have been resettled by UNHCR in a European country," Amnesty said in a statement.

"Sok Yoeun's case is clearly highly political and normal judicial procedures have apparently not been followed," it said.

Sok Yoeun had appealed the decision of a lower court on the grounds that the judge who delivered the original verdict heard only the last of 32 hearings over more than two years of proceedings.

His defense also claimed that the court had not considered all of the evidence presented by the defendants and that he was a UN refugee.

"This verdict is a rebuke to the UN and demonstrates Thailand's disregard for decisions taken by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees," Amnesty said.

"His return to Cambodia where he would face an unfair trial and possible torture is a violation of both Thai domestic law and a fundamental principle of international law."

The former opposition activist is accused by the Cambodian government of involvement in a 1998 rocket attack on Hun Sen's motorcade which left one person dead at Siem Reap, close to Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat temple complex.

After the incident Sok Yoeun fled to Thailand, where he was arrested for illegal entry and sentenced to six months in jail, which he served before being taken back into custody pending a decision on the request for his extradition.

Friday's court decision found that Sok Yoeun must be extradited to Cambodia within three months or be freed, but Amnesty warned he may be deported within 24 hours.

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