A Cambodian court unexpectedly adjourned the trial on Friday of jailed opposition senator Hong Sok Hour, postponing the proceedings for five days and refusing his request to be released on bail due to ill health.
Authorities had previously barred doctors from the human rights group Licadho from visiting the lawmaker at Prey Sar Prison in the capital Phnom Penh, where he has been held since August after challenging Cambodia’s ruling party on its handling of a border dispute with neighboring Vietnam.
At his trial, which was abruptly adjourned after only four hours on Friday, Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) senator Hong Sok Hour—who holds citizenship in both Cambodia and France—offered to hand over his passport and deposit 20 million riel (U.S. $4,900) to secure his release on bail, but was turned down by the court.
Speaking on Friday to RFA’s Khmer Service, senior Licadho investigator Am Sam Ath voiced disappointment at the judge’s decision to postpone the trial and return Hong Sok Hour to prison.
“I am sad that the court didn’t allow him to be freed on bail,” Am Sam Ath said, adding, “Judging by the condition of his health, it is clear he should be released.”
Hong Sok Hour was arrested by Cambodian police on Aug. 15 after Prime Minister Hun Sen accused him of treason for posting on Facebook a disputed diplomatic document, later proven false, relating to the country’s border with neighboring Vietnam.
He was then charged with forging a public document and with incitement to cause social unrest, and was sent to Prey Sar.
In an ongoing dispute with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP)—a merged political grouping that includes the SRP and is led by Sam Rainsy—contends that Vietnam has been encroaching on Cambodian territory at various spots along the shared 1,228-kilometer (763-mile) border.
It has also accused the government of ceding land to Vietnam, which invaded and occupied Cambodia in 1979, by using incorrect maps to determine border demarcations.
Hong Sok Hour’s wife Kun Lum Ang, who was present in the court on Friday, expressed hope that the government will reconsider its case against her husband and allow his prompt release.
“I ask that the government look again at my husband’s case,” she said.
“But first, I urge them to release him on bail,” she said.
'No basis' for charges
New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) meanwhile called for an end to the prosecution and trial of the opposition senator, saying in an Oct. 1 statement that there is “no basis” for the charges brought against him.
There is no evidence that Hong Sok Hour was aware of the inaccuracies contained in his online postings at the time that he made them, HRW said.
“[Prime Minister] Hun Sen has turned an inaccurate historical statement into a criminal offense to crack down on the political opposition and demonstrate that he can arrest and imprison anybody, anytime,” HRW Asia director Brad Adams said.
“Cambodia’s [international] donors should not let Hun Sen and his government get away with stifling free expression and the democratic process, but should jointly and publicly call for those practices to end,” he said.
Reported by Morn Moniroth for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.