Freedom Urged For Cambodian Woman Who Threw Shoe at Hun Sen Poster

Sam Sokha, a former factory worker with two teenage sons, has already served three years and seven months of her four-year prison term, her sister says.
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Sam Sokha is shown throwing a shoe at a Cambodian ruling party promotion poster with a photo of Prime Minister Hun Sen, April 1, 2017.
Sam Sokha's video

A Cambodian woman jailed for four years for throwing her shoe at a poster of Prime Minister Hun Sen has already served almost all of her sentence and should be released on humanitarian grounds in the face of coronavirus risks in prison, the woman’s younger sister said on Tuesday.

The prison term imposed on Sam Sokha, 38 at the time of her arrest and controversial extradition from Thailand in April 2017, for her act criticizing the country’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) was too harsh, her sister Sam Rachana told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“Our entire family feels that this was very unjust,” Sam Rachana said, noting that Sam Sokha has already served three years and seven months of her prison term.

“She committed a minor offense, but they have held her now for almost four years, separating her from her family and from her mother and sisters,” she said. “She had not committed any crimes previously, and yet this one mistake has caused her to spend almost four years in jail.”

Sam Rachana said that she has asked the Kampong Speu Provincial Court to release Sam Sokha, a former factory worker with two teenage sons and a supporter of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), on humanitarian grounds, citing concerns for her health amid a growing spread of COVID-19 in prisons and jails.

Attempts to reach court spokesperson Ou Phat and Ministry of Justice spokesperson Chhin Malin were unsuccessful on Tuesday.

On April 1, 2017, Sam Sokha filmed herself throwing a shoe at a poster of Hun Sen, accusing him of damaging the country. The video’s release next day on social media prompted a manhunt by police and Sam Sokha’s eventual summons to answer charges of “incitement.”

In February 2018, Sam Sokha was arrested in Thailand by Thai authorities and returned to Cambodia, despite having earlier been granted refugee status by the United Nations’ refugee agency.

The extradition alarmed the many CNRP officials and activists who fled to Thailand fearing arrest in the wake of Hun Sen's crackdown on the party in late 2017 and subsequent banning of the group.

A month later, Cambodia’s Defense Minister Tea Banh and Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha approved a deal in principle on the exchange of “foreign fugitives” using their territories as a base for “sowing chaos and incitement.”

Speaking to RFA, Am Sam Ath—deputy director of the Cambodian rights group Licadho—said that the harsh punishment given Sam Sokha by the court in Kampong Speu was typical of the sentences handed down by courts in cases considered political in Cambodia.

The government and court should now release her because she has already served most of her jail term, he said.

“As an NGO, we consider first that [Sam Sokha] is a woman, and her children need her,” he said. “Secondly, the Ministry of Justice recently issued a notice allowing the release, under certain conditions, of convicts who have served almost all of their prison terms.”

“It is time for [the courts] to implement [that notice] and release convicts to make space in the prisons and reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections,” Am Sam Ath said.

Sam Sokha’s lawyer Sam Sokong wrote in June to the Kampong Speu Provincial Court asking the court to release his client, noting family concerns over her health and her time already served, but has received no reply to date, sources said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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