Kampong Speu resident Sam Sokha — who spent four years in prison for throwing a sandal at a CPP billboard — paid about $2,500 in court fines on Thursday and will not have to return to prison, said a court prosecutor.
Sokha was a critic of the ruling party and government and was filmed throwing a shoe at a CPP billboard depicting Prime Minister Hun Sen a few months before the 2017 commune election. She then fled to Thailand but was deported in February 2018 despite being recognized as a refugee who was awaiting transfer to a third country. On returning, she was sentenced to two years in prison for insult and incitement and, in 2019, she was sentenced to an additional two years for Facebook posts she made while in Thailand.
Sam Dara, her brother, said on Wednesday that a prosecutor had first agreed to release her if she paid $200 a month toward the fine and refrained from political activity. However, later in the evening, another prosecutor said she had to pay the entire fine or remain in prison.
The 43-year-old resident of Chbar Mon city’s Svay Kravan commune said Thursday evening that her family had borrowed the money from a relative without interest and handed it to the provincial court.
“I was very scared that I wouldn’t get the money to pay them,” she said.
Her family had already used a land title to get a loan to buy a tuk-tuk, so they were unable to borrow money from a financial institution.
Earlier in the day, Sokha was unhappy with the prosecutor’s insistence that she pay the loan all at once.
“Other prisoners can pay in installments but for me it is a no. They do not give us time and we asked them for one day [to pay], which is today,” she said.
Vet Makhak, from the Kampong Speu prosecutors’ office, confirmed Thursday evening that Sokha had paid her fine and was free to go.
“We have made a report on receiving it and the finance [department] has taken the money,” he said. “She had freedom yesterday after serving her sentence and she has fulfilled the fine obligation.”
The Criminal Procedures Code stipulates that if a person fails to pay a court fine between $1,250 and $2,500 they can be sent to prison for six additional months in lieu of payment.
Thursday morning, Sokha said after four years of incarceration she was unlikely to enter politics, but would remain a neutral observer and call out any wrongdoings in society.
“I’ve just been released. I don’t want to be involved with that sort of thing,” Sokha said. “For loving the nation, what you get in return is nothing and you only eat dirt, and for four years nobody came to help me. I was very desperate and my family are indebted from buying food for me.”
She was still surprised that the government would seek to put her in prison for four years for throwing a shoe at the billboard.
“It would be good if the [government] would understand and tolerate because they always say they are the parents, and if the children commit wrong, they have the right to educate them,” she said.
“But, when I went to the Supreme Court, the court would not reduce a single day or minute for me.”
In September 2018, Sokha wrote a letter to the prime minister apologizing for the incident and said she misbehaved because she was “illiterate and stupid.” She added that she was fired from a garment factory for raising labor rights issues and was left to take care of two children.
She said the four years in prison had affected her mental health, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic. All she wanted to do now was move on, she said.
“Whatever wrong I have done toward them, I have already made an apology, and for how they violated and done wrong to me, I forgive them.”
Additional reporting by Morm Moniroth
Correction: An earlier version of the story quoted a Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson. The court official is from the Kampong Speu Provincial Court.