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Cablegate: Tim Sakhorn Sentenced to One Year in Prison

VZCZCXRO4540
PP RUEHHM
DE RUEHHM #1145/01 3171029
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 131029Z NOV 07
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3336
INFO RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 2292
RUEHPF/AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH PRIORITY 0040
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 3551

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 001145

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL/IRF AND DRL/AWH

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: SOCI PREF KIRF PREL PGOV PHUM CB VM
SUBJECT: TIM SAKHORN SENTENCED TO ONE YEAR IN PRISON

REF: REFS: A)HCMC 836; B)HCMC 766 C)HCMC 733 D)HCMC 520 E) PHNOM PENH 905

Summary
-------
1. (SBU) On November 8, 2007, defrocked Khmer Krom monk Tim
Sakhorn was sentenced to one year in prison by the An Giang
Provincial People's Court for "sabotaging national unity," as
defined by Article 87 of the GVN criminal code. The one-year
sentence includes time already served in detention, which Post
believes began with his reported arrest in Vietnam on June 30,
2007. Local news reports say Sakhorn "received materials and
money from an exile reactionary organization to distribute 500
documents and 300 video discs with contents against the
Vietnamese State" and "incited the Khmer ethnic minority people
in An Giang province to lodge petitions and cause social
disorder." Several An Giang land rights protesters told ConGen
they were called to testify that Sakhorn gave them money to
organize Khmer supporters for the land rights movement here.
All declined to testify, but sources say one witness told
authorities while she was in police detention that she received
money from Sakhorn and gave it to another witness. The news
reports also shed more light on Sakhorn's background, confirming
his Vietnamese citizenship and long residency in Cambodia. End
summary.

2. (SBU) Following receipt of a press release from the Khmer
Kampuchea Krom Federation (KKKF) announcing Tim Sakhorn's trial
in An Giang, Post confirmed with local contacts that he was
tried and sentenced to one year in prison for "sabotaging
national unity" under Article 87 of the GVN criminal code on
November 8. Voice of Vietnam news said Sakhorn plead guilty and
noted the short prison term (as compared to sentencing
guidelines for Article 87 violations) was due to his "remorse
and sincere attitude." Article 87 violations can carry a
maximum sentence of 15 years. The one year sentenced includes
the time Sakhorn has already served since his detention began in
July.

3. (SBU) According to official news outlets, Sakhorn was
arrested by Vietnamese authorities on June 30, 2007 for
attempting to enter Vietnam from Cambodia illegally after being
defrocked by the Buddhist church for violating Buddhist laws.
However, earlier reports from Embassy Phnom Penh indicate that
Vietnamese and Cambodian authorities cooperated in having
Sakhorn forcibly removed from Cambodia and detained in Vietnam
(Ref E). Vietnamese press said the charges stemmed from
Sakhorn's KKKF activism in Vietnam. Specifically, Sakhorn was
accused of receiving funding from the KKKF to slander the
Vietnamese government and incite separatism via the
dissemination of approximately 500 magazines and 300 video disks
provided by KKKF to Khmer people in An Giang from April 2005
until the time of his arrest. In addition to the charges of
inciting separatism in the Khmer community in An Giang, reports
also claim Sakhorn was attempting to fund and organize residents
with land rights claims to join four demonstrations staged in An
Giang, Can Tho and Ho Chi Minh City.

KKKF Supporting the Land Rights Movement?
-----------------------------------------
4. (SBU) Press reports stated that four witnesses were called to
testify at Sakhorn's trial regarding funds he allegedly provided
them with and instructions he gave to organize Khmer protesters
to join land rights demonstrations in the South. Post spoke to
two of the witnesses, who confirmed all four had been summoned
and all four had filed land dispute claims in An Giang. Some
had also participated in the July land rights protests in Ho Chi
Minh City (Ref B). Though all four witnesses decided not to
testify in court, ConGen contacts said one witness, Ms. Neang
Phe, was detained briefly by authorities and told police she
received funds from Sakhorn and then gave them to another
witness, Mr Chau In. When ConGen staff spoke to Mr. In, he
denied any connection to Sakhorn and said he was too afraid to
attend Sakhorn's trial, though police had come to his home on
the day of the trial to "remind" him of the summons. Ms. Phe
was unavailable for comment. Official reports of Sakhorn's
trial said Mr. In confessed to receiving and disseminating
anti-GVN CDs and magazines from Tim Sakhorn, inciting public
protests and causing public disorder. Reports also said Sakhorn
plead guilty to all charges and admitted his connections to all
four witnesses. (Note: It is unclear from the reports when or
how authorities obtained these confessions. End note.)

More on Sakhorn's Background
----------------------------
5. (SBU) Official reports of Sakhorn's trial also provided some
details about his background. Reports confirmed he was born in
1968 in the Ba Chuc commune, Tri Ton district of An Giang. He
and his family then fled to (vs. from) Cambodia in 1978 because
of Khmer Rouge activity in the region. Sakhorn then returned to
Vietnam in 1990 and left again for Cambodia late the same year.

HO CHI MIN 00001145 002 OF 002


The report alleges he was made Vice President of the KKKF in
2005, and defrocked on June 30, 2007 for violating Buddhist law
(Ref D).

6. (SBU) All of the official reports describe activities Sakhorn
allegedly conducted in Vietnam. ConGen contacts say he went
back and forth between Vietnam and Cambodia regularly. As post
reported earlier, one monk in An Giang said he saw Sakhorn in An
Giang a month before his arrest and another monk said police
visited pagodas in the area and instructed monks not to give
Sakhorn refuge after he was defrocked(Ref C). None of our
contacts could confirm whether Sakhorn was actively engaged in
KKKF or land rights activism, however.

Comment
-------
7. (SBU) The land rights activism charge is new and noteworthy.
The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), a politically
active and officially unrecognized sect which broke with the
Vietnam Buddhist Sangha in 1981, has made no secret of their
support for the land rights movement here and has both
successfully and unsuccessfully donated funds to protesters in
the past. It unclear if GVN authorities are trying to link
Sakhorn--and therefore the KKKF--with the land rights movement
in an effort to discredit him or whether Sakhorn was genuinely
involved. As the hottest grassroots movement around, the land
rights movement seems to be attracting support from many
advocates of democracy and free speech in Vietnam. Post notes
that information presented in the press and by contacts show
Sakhorn's arrest and prosecution had little (if anything) to do
with his religion, but rather his alleged activism on behalf of
the KKKF and possibly in support of the land rights movement.

8. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Phnom Penh and
Embassy Hanoi.
FAIRFAX

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