Lawyers for Sam Rainsy Party member Sok Yoeun, who is jailed in Bangkok awaiting a Nov 28 extradition verdict, filed their final arguments Wednesday in what has been a protracted bid by the Cambodian government to have the opposition party activist returned to face charges that he tried to kill Prime Minister Hun Sen in 1998.
Thai defense attorney Chairat Saeng-Arun continues to maintain that Sok Yoeun, who was arrested in Thailand in December 1999 after fleeing a police sweep in Battambang province, will face severe persecution if he is handed over to Cambodian authorities.
Two other opposition party members were arrested as police began rounding up suspects in the Siem Reap rocket attack that many Hun Sen supporters still see as an attempt to assassinate the premier. The pair were released in March 2000, but Sok Yoeun remains squarely in the sights of Cambodian authorities.
In a final attempt to sway the Thai government away from granting Cambodia’s extradition bid, the Sam Rainsy Party has called for supporters to lobby Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra for Sok Yoeun’s release.
The 50-year-old, who is reportedly in poor health, has already been granted refugee status by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and has been accepted for resettlement by the Finnish government. His family has already relocated to Finland.
Sok Yoeun has steadfastly denied he was involved in the attack, which left Hun Sen unharmed but killed one bystander. Sam Rainsy Party officials in late 1999 saw the government’s actions as a move to break up the opposition party’s Battambang network, which until then had been relatively strong.
Defense lawyers have pointed out several flaws in the case against Sok Yoeun—perhaps most damning is the fact that the court’s arrest warrant was issued more than two weeks before the attack took place.
Sok Yoeun’s attorneys also claim that Cambodia cannot legally extradite their client. “Since the charges weighing against Mr Sok Yoeun make his case a political one, the Accused does not fall into any of the categories of accused subject to be extradited,” read a statement released by the opposition Wednesday.
Both lawyers and party members also say Cambodia has no right to try Sok Yoeun in a military court—the court where charges have been filed against him—because he is not a member of any armed force.
“The arrest warrant and all evidence of the charge contravenes the rule of laws, legal principles, as well as traditions and practices of international laws,” the statement read.
On a June 2001 visit to Cambodia, Thaksin told reporters his government would not extradite Sok Yoeun.
While the government has said it is confident Sok Yoeun will be returned, authorities have never said what evidence they have to support their claims that he is guilty.
A videotaped confession—thought to be key to the prosecution’s case—has been discredited by human rights officials here as being coerced, though it still remains admissible in the courts.
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