‘Please Release Us’: Youth Activists Seek Bail 9 Months After Arrest

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Khmer Thavrak activist Hun Vannak clashes with Prampi Makara district authorities during a rally in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on August 13, 2020. (Khan Leakhena/VOD)
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The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday denied bail to five members of activist group Khmer Thavrak and two members of the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association, as the defendants urged that they had already been in jail for as long as nine months.

Khmer Thavrak members Hun Vannak, Chhoeun Daravy, Tha Lavy, Eng Malai and Koet Saray were arrested in August and September amid protests in support of jailed unionist Rong Chhun; KSILA’s, Muong Sopheak and Mean Prom Mony were arrested in September for their involvement in the same protests.

On Tuesday, Malai, with a visible swollen leg, held hands with Daravy as their lawyers made their arguments for bail.

Vannak spoke out that even though the courts had not found them guilty, it had already jailed them for many months.

Judge Tith Sothy Borachat tried to cut him off, telling him that only lawyers would be permitted to speak.

“Please release us. We have clear home addresses and we are prepared to show up when the court needs to do any interrogation,” Vannak said.

Sam Chamroeun, one of three defense lawyers, argued that the pretrial detention had continued too long. The crime for which they had been charged — incitement to disturb social security — carried a potential jail sentence of six months to two years.

The seven defendants had already been in jail for longer than the low-end of the potential sentence, he said.

Pretrial detention of more than six months also breached the requirement for a quick and fair trial, Chamroeun argued, citing the Criminal Procedure Code.

“The court needs to consider this case as urgent and necessary,” he said.

Bail would reduce challenges for the defendants, including the risk of Covid-19 and mental health pressures, as they could be in the care of their families, Chamroeun said.

Deputy prosecutor Sam Rithy Veasna said the defendants had already had two trial hearings, and their release now would obstruct the court process.

The trial had been delayed due to Covid-19, he added. “We will continue the procedure when the Covid-19 situation is better,” he said.

Prum Mony was questioned during a trial hearing in February, when he was asked about links to a Cambodian-Australian former member of parliament in Victoria, Hong Lim.

Sopheak, the other KSILA member, said on Tuesday that he was chronically ill and he was not getting the care he needed.

“It is very difficult to endure this and it is very difficult to live there,” especially without money to spend in prison, Sopheak said.

He did not want to stay in prison as he was afraid that he would have mental health issues, he said.

During a 15-minute break, the defendants talked with each other and visiting family members. Some family members could be heard asking about their health and seen handing over bundles of 20,000 riel notes, worth about $5 each.

After the break, Sothy Borachat, the judge, said there was not enough evidence to release the defendants on bail, and rejected the defense’s arguments.

“To guarantee their presence for the charges at the upcoming trial, [the court] does not allow their release on bail,” he said.

A specific trial date was not announced.

Chamroeun, the defense lawyer, said he would discuss appealing the decision with his clients.

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