Cambodian Court Refuses Bail Request by Autistic Son of Opposition Activist

Kak Sovanchhay's continued detention is unnecessary and violates the 'spirit of the law,' a Cambodian rights group says.
2021-08-03
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Cambodian Court Refuses Bail Request by Autistic Son of Opposition Activist Cambodian activist Prum Chantha (L) and her son Kak Sovanchhay sit at a Buddhist temple near Prey Sar Prison in Phnom Penh, Oct. 6, 2020.
Photo courtesy of Prum Chantha

A court in Cambodia’s capital has rejected a request for bail for the autistic teenage son of a jailed opposition activist, with the boy’s mother not allowed inside the courtroom on Tuesday to attend the hearing, sources say.

Kak Sovanchhay, the 16-year-old son of detained former senior opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) member Kak Komphear, was arrested at his home in Phnom Penh on June 24 by police who accused of him of insulting government leaders on social media.

A day later, he was remanded to Prey Sar Prison, the largest of Cambodia’s two dozen jails run by the Ministry of Interior. His father has been serving time in the same prison for more than a year.

Speaking to RFA after the court’s decision, defense attorney Sam Sokong said he had argued strongly for Kak Sovanchhay’s release, citing the young man’s autism and need to continue his studies in school. Presiding judge Duch Sok Sarin had rejected the appeal, though, saying that Kak Sovanchhay would likely commit other crimes if he was freed.

“Sovanchhay’s mother feels this was an unjust verdict and has asked for her son’s lawyers to prepare an appeal,” Sam Sokong said.

Prum Chantha, Kak Sovanchhay’s mother, was barred from the Phnom Penh Court of Appeals on Tuesday and had to wait outside the court building to hear the results of the hearing, she said, adding that authorities had also refused to allow her son to be transported from prison to appear in court, citing COVID-19 concerns.

“This hearing was unfair to my son and our family, and was inconsistent with the [judicial system’s own] code of ethics. The judges have studied the law, but they violate the law themselves,” she added.

'Against the spirit of the law'

Also speaking to RFA, Ny Sokha—president of Cambodia’s Adhoc Human Rights Association—said it was unlikely that Kak Sovanchhay would commit any crimes if freed on bail, adding that judges at all levels of authority should consider his release.

“Under the Penal Code, the detention of suspects is allowed only when absolutely necessary, and even then it should only be temporary,” he said.

“But in reality we see that when it comes to social activists, human rights activists, environmental activists, and political activists, the courts choose detention in most of those cases.”

“This decision goes against the spirit of the law,” he said.

Prum Chantha has said in earlier reports she believes that authorities arrested her son in an attempt to demoralize her because she is a member of the Friday Wives group of women who hold weekly protests demanding the release of husbands jailed on incitement charges for expressing views critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s leadership.

More than 80 political, social, and environmental activists have been arrested and imprisoned since the end of 2019, most of them on charges of incitement and conspiracy.

National and international organizations and many democratic countries have repeatedly condemned the detentions as politically motivated and have demanded the detainees’ immediate release.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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