Jailed Cambodian American returned to prison after hospital visit

Theary Seng is on a 10-day hunger strike to demand her release.
By RFA Khmer
2023.12.13
Jailed Cambodian American returned to prison after hospital visit Theary Seng [left] is seen after her arrest in Phnom Penh on June 14, 2022. At right, she protests dressed as Lady Liberty outside the municipal court.
(Citizen journalist [left] and Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP)

UPDATED at 14:45 ET on Dec. 14, 2023

Jailed Cambodian American lawyer and human rights activist Theary Seng was sent back to prison on Wednesday night after being treated for 10 hours at a hospital in the capital of Phnom Penh, a prison official said.

Theary Seng, 52, was taken to the Russian Hospital after experiencing complications from a 10-day hunger strike she plans to continue until Dec. 16 to demand her release.

In 2022, she was convicted of treason and sentenced to six years in prison.

Doctors examined her and found that while she was weaker, she wasn’t in a life-threatening state, prison department spokesman Nuth Savana told RFA. He confirmed that Theary Seng has refused to eat anything except water and lemon juice. 

She was sent back to Prey Sar Prison, where she remains under medical supervision.

“We give her food, but she does not eat. We prepare for her regularly,” Nuth Savana said. “In general her health is weak. We have prepared medication in case of an emergency.” 

Ny Sokha, president of the ADHOC rights group, said that although the doctors allowed the authorities to send her back to the detention center, he was still concerned about Theary Seng’s health. 

“She is fasting and it is very harmful to her health. It can be life-threatening,” he said. 

Delay in hearing

Her visit to the hospital allowed an Appeals Court hearing scheduled for Wednesday to be delayed. Her health issues were announced in the courtroom on Wednesday where supporters, relatives, diplomats and representatives from the U.N. human rights office had gathered for the scheduled hearing.

On Wednesday, Ny Sokha also expressed regret over the delay, noting that the activists are suffering while their cases “drag on.”

“Those being jailed are waiting for justice,” he said. “This is sad and it affects the image of the government.”

RFA was unable to contact Russian Hospital Director Ngy Meng for further questioning on Theary Seng’s health on Thursday. The public hospital was founded in 1960 with funding from the Soviet Union.

ENG_KHM_ThearySeng_12132023.2.jpeg
Activists and the wives of CNRP activists protest in front of the appeals court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Dec. 12, 2023. (RFA)

Theary Seng, who holds dual Cambodian and U.S. citizenship, often dressed herself in elaborate costumes to argue for democracy and the rule of law at public protests before her conviction. 

As the “Statue of Liberty,” she wore a copper-patina hued flowing gown and speckled herself in glitter. She also once dressed as “Lady Justice,” complete with blindfold, scale and sword.

Her conviction stemmed from her failed efforts in 2019 to bring about the return to Cambodia of political opposition leader Sam Rainsy. 

In September, she was transferred from Preah Vihear to Prey Sar II prison on the outskirts of Phnom Penh. The transfer allowed her to work directly with her defense team ahead of this month’s scheduled appeal. 

Translated by Yun Samean. Edited by Malcolm Foster and Matt Reed.

Updates with Theary Seng sent back to prison.

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