Cambodia’s top court hears appeal from convicted opposition figure

Thach Setha asked judges to undo a conviction for writing bad checks that brought an 18-month prison sentence.
By RFA Khmer
2024.05.20
Cambodia’s top court hears appeal from convicted opposition figure Thach Setha, center, a prominent vice president of the country’s main opposition, Candlelight Party, talks to media members near the Vietnam Embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Aug. 14, 2014.
(Heng Sinith/AP)

Cambodia’s Supreme Court on Monday heard an appeal from Candlelight Party Vice President Thach Setha who asked judges to overturn a lower court’s false check conviction that resulted in an 18-month prison sentence.

The opposition figure told the court that the five bad checks presented as evidence in last year’s trial weren’t issued by him.

Additionally, lawyers for Thach Setha argued that the lower court only saw photocopies of the five checks – not the originals.

“A photocopy is not a check because it cannot be used to cash money, but the court and the Court of Appeal relied on the photocopy to punish my client,” one of the lawyers, Chou Chou Ngy, said after Monday’s hearing.

ENG_KHM_CANDLELIGHT PARTY VP_05202024.2.jpg
Thach Setha hugs a boy in front of the Prey Sar main prison outside Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Nov. 10, 2021. (Heng Sinith/AP)

Thach Setha’s arrest in the case in January 2023 was seen as part of a months-long campaign of intimidation and threats against opposition leaders and activists ahead of last year’s general election. 

The arrest followed a lawsuit filed by a Phnom Penh pawnshop that said Thach Setha borrowed US$20,000 in 2011 and 2012. The shop is owned by Hay Van Rin, who is known to be close to the family of former Prime Minister Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, or CPP.

Thach Setha’s lawyers said that the debt has been almost completely repaid. Prosecutors have said that the bad checks were part of the effort to pay back the loans. 

Last September’s conviction was criticized as politically motivated by human rights groups and party officials.

ENG_KHM_CANDLELIGHT PARTY VP_05202024.3.jpg
Thach Setha shows handcuffs from inside a car as he is transported from the Supreme Court to Prey Sar Prison on June 19, 2023. (VOA)

In December, the Supreme Court rejected a bail request by Thach Setha amid the appeal effort. On Monday, the court said it would announce its decision in the appeal on May 31.

Thach Setha is also serving a three-year sentence he received in an unrelated case in October 2023 after his conviction on two separate charges of incitement. That case stemmed from a comment he made last year about the history of the CPP.

Translated by Sum Sok Ry. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.

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