Lawyer Requests Early Release for Jailed Sandal-Thrower

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Snack vendors park behind a CPP sign in Mondulkiri province’s Sen Monorom City on October 17, 2020. (Danielle Keeton-Olsen/VOD)

Jailed sandal-thrower Sam Sokha, sentenced twice for incitement after being extradited from her escape to Thailand, should be released five months early due to health concerns amid the pandemic, her lawyer asked the Kampong Speu Provincial Court.

In 2017, a Facebook video showed Sokha flinging a sandal at Prime Minister Hun Sen’s face printed on an election billboard, then catching the sandal off the bounce and throwing it a second time at National Assembly president Heng Samrin’s depicted face.

The video emerged just two months ahead of that year’s commune elections, and Sokha, a labor activist and opposition supporter, fled to Thailand to evade the charges against her.

Defense lawyer Lor Chunthy said Sokha was sentenced in absentia in January 2018 to two years in prison by the Kampong Speu Provincial Court, then sentenced to another two years in January 2019 for critical Facebook posts during her time in Thailand.

She was extradited from Thailand in February 2018, despite being registered with the U.N. refugee agency, according to Human Rights Watch. Amnesty International at the time called for Sokha’s immediate release, saying “peaceful political activism is not a crime.”

A letter filed by Chunthy to the provincial court says Sokha was suffering from serious stomach pains and was in fear of contracting Covid-19. During the pandemic, she was having trouble keeping in contact with her family, who wanted to supply her with food and medicine, the letter says. She had been well-behaved during her time in prison, and had five months of her sentence remaining, it says.

“Now she has served more than two-thirds,” Chunthy said.

Rights groups have called for the release of prisoners in pretrial detention on bail and other eligible detainees as Covid-19 outbreaks have hit at least seven facilities in the country’s notoriously overcrowded prisons system. Some 10 to 20 percent of inmates at the affected prisons, likely thousands of prisoners, were found to have Covid-19.

Kampong Speu Provincial Court director Klot Pech said he did not know about Sokha’s case and referred questions to the judge in charge of the case.

Judge Song Bunnarith would neither deny nor confirm that he was the one in charge, saying there are many cases every day.

Ung Samith, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, said an early release for Sokha would be helpful during this time.

“She has served and corrected herself well and nothing has happened in the prison,” Samith said. “She should have [the sentence] reduced because of Covid-19 and should be released.”

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