A court in Cambodia on Friday denied bail to two activists detained in connection with a deadly crackdown by security forces during a worker strike four months ago, saying the pair posed a threat to public security despite being charged with minor crimes.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court refused to grant bail to Vorn Pao, president of the Independent and Democracy of Informal Economic Association (IDEA), and worker rights activist Sokun Sambathpisith, citing concerns that the two “might compromise security and social order” if released.
The court also referenced a prison report which alleged that Vorn Pao’s health was normal and he did not require bail on medical grounds, despite his wife’s claims that he is suffering from cancer and is in urgent need of treatment.
Neither of the men was present at the hearing, which was heavily guarded by security personnel amid a protest by some 100 activists and supporters calling for their release outside of the courtroom.
Vorn Pao’s lawyer Kim Socheat told RFA’s Khmer Service that the judges had claimed his client might provoke social unrest if released on bail and cited claims by prison guards that the activist is of sound health.
“These are the two reasons that they decided to keep Vorn Pao in jail,” he said.
Speaking to the crowd of supporters after the court’s decision, Vorn Pao’s wife Prak Sovannary explained that her husband is suffering from cancer and needs to be treated at a medical facility in Thailand.
“This is very unjust for my husband, he is really sick,” she said.
“We have hospital documents from Thailand showing that he has cancer. He needs to be treated, but the judge said his health is normal.”
Sokun Sambathpisith’s father Youm Sothun told supporters that his son had been working for a local nongovernmental organization that supports worker rights and was sent to monitor the January demonstration calling for an increase in minimum wages when he was “attacked” by police and arrested.
“My son didn’t incite any demonstration—he was only an observer,” he said, adding that police had broken Sokun Sambathpisith’s arms and fingers during the struggle.
Group of 21
The two men are part of a group of 21 arrested after a Jan. 3 shootout by security forces during a strike by garment workers demanding higher minimum wages in a crackdown that left five people dead and several others wounded.
They are accused of causing intentional violence and damage to property and face up to up to five years’ imprisonment, as well as fines from U.S. $1,000 to $2,500.
All 21 had been denied bail on similar grounds of posing a threat to public security in February, despite a deluge of appeals from local and international groups for their release.
Two others arrested with the 21 were discharged from detention following a closed-door hearing earlier that month, though authorities gave no reason for their release.
Am Sam Ath, senior investigator with local rights watchdog Licadho, said that all of the 21 men still in detention should qualify for bail because the charges against them are minor.
“Those accused of minor crimes can be released on bail,” he said.
Rights groups have also said court decisions to deny the men bail were the result of political interference aimed at curbing dissent.
The detainees, some of whom have staged a hunger strike, are being held in a remote high-security facility in Kampong Cham province—Correctional Center 3 (CC3), which rights groups have labeled “among the harshest prisons in Cambodia.”
Upon their arrest, the detainees were held incommunicado and denied access to medical treatment for several days, rights groups have said.
Reported by Ouk Savborey for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.