The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday decided to drop an arrest warrant against Thailand-based social analyst Seng Sary after Prime Minister Hun Sen made the suggestion in a Facebook post on Monday.
According to an order dated September 21, investigating judge Nhim Pisal decided to drop his earlier arrest warrant against Sary dated August 5. The decision was made after the investigating judge dropped charges against Sary on the same day, according to the order.
The order says Sary, 41, had been charged with plotting and incitement to cause serious chaos to society committed in Cambodia and other places on July 17, 20 and 21, under articles 453, 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code. It also lists him as researcher and social observer who has worked at Banteay Meanchey’s Meanchey University, and is from Pursat province’s Kandieng district.
Hun Sen initially said in a speech on Friday that Sary had supported the creation of an opposition government in exile, and that a warrant was out for his arrest. But on Monday, the prime minister posted that he had listened carefully to Sary’s words and understood that he had been talking through different scenarios, calling such work “reasonable and acceptable.”
“As head of the Royal Government of Cambodia, I call on the court to consider stopping the arrest warrant for Dr. Seng Sary. In the meantime, I would also like to encourage Dr. Seng Sary to continue his research and analysis of social issues for the benefit of social science research,” he said in the Monday post.
Questions have been frequently raised about alleged political interference in Cambodian courts, even as officials have repeatedly defended its judicial independence.
The Supreme Court is headed by a ruling party official, Dith Munty. The Supreme Court in 2017 dissolved the country’s only viable opposition party. The country’s courts have since put over 100 opposition supporters on trial. Environmental activists, government critics and civil society officials have also faced controversial legal action in recent years.
Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin said dropping Sary’s arrest warrant was an independent decision made by the judge.
“This decision is in line with legal procedures because the judge has discretion in making the decision, and any party can make a request, not only the prime minister. Anyone can make a request. Civil society also can make a request, but whatever the decision is, it depends on the judge and the court,” Malin said. “The prime minister’s request is not an interference in the court’s affairs.”
Phnom Penh court spokesmen Y Rin and Suos Vithyearandy could not be reached for comment.
Sary said he feels he has full freedom after the court dropped the case against him.
“I will still continue to work as an analyst, but this incident could make me even stronger [to give] more in-depth analyses, and be highly vigilant, especially about using words in writing that could cause confusion.”
Updated at 9:35 p.m. with comments from Chin Malin.