RFA Khmer / 26-8-2020 / Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong

The Cambodian Appeals Court Wednesday denied a bail request for detained union leader Rong Chhun, citing concerns that he might repeat the actions that led to his arrest if he were released, his lawyer told reporters after the ruling.

Rong Chhun was officially charged with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” under Article 495 of Cambodia’s Penal Code and jailed at Prey Sar Prison in Phnom Penh on Aug 1, a day after his arrest for claiming the government has allowed Vietnam to encroach on farmland along their shared border. His arrest has prompted nearly daily protests.

Defense lawyer Chhoung Chhou Ngy told reporters outside the courthouse in Phnom Penh that his client’s bail request was denied because the court wants to “finish this case while preventing repeated crimes.”

Hem Socheat, another defense lawyer, told RFA’s Khmer Service that the defense team plans to appeal the decision in the Supreme Court, but he did not expect that the higher court would overturn the ruling.

“I don’t have any hope, but this is the procedure. We think even though we don’t have any hope, we will try our best to follow the procedure to advocate for our client,” said Hem Socheat. A Supreme Court decision to uphold the denial of bail would end the process, he said.

“Our client did what was done because he wanted to help the country. Our client has a career and a residence, and he is not a risk to provoke any social problems,” he said.

“I think the Appeals Court’s decision runs contrary to the truth. Rong Chhun did not commit any crime. He is innocent and has been working for the sake of the public,” Hem Socheat said.

Ny Sokha of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) told RFA that the Appeals Court’s decision was more likely to cause social issues than Rong Chhun himself. “If Rong Chhun were released, there would not have been any protests,” he said.

During the hearing Wednesday morning, a group of around 100 people protested outside of the courthouse demanding Rong Chhun’s release.

Phou Sareth, an activist with the Khmer Thavarak youth civic group, told RFA that she was disappointed with the court’s decision. She said she would continue to advocate for the union leader’s release. “We need Rong Chhun. He is a nationalist. He was unjustly imprisoned. Please release him immediately,” she said.

Three Rong Chhun supporters visited Tuesday

A day before Wednesday’s ruling, a group of Khmer Thavarak activists visited Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison to meet with three activists who were detained after they protested in support of Rong Chhun.

Two of the activists, Hun Vannak and Chhoeun Daravy are also members of Khmer Thavarak, while the third, Sar Kanika is affiliated with the banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

One of the visitors, So Metta, told RFA that she was able to meet with Hun Vannak for less than 10 minutes.

“I told him that we are still strong and will continue our work. He encouraged us to remain steadfast and not to be intimidated,” she said.

So Metta said that Hun Vannak appeared to be mentally strong but had a pale face. The visit was watched by guards, who took notes of the encounter, so So Metta said she was unable to speak freely.

The guards also would not allow the visitors to bring food and books, because the inmates are required to buy expensive food in the jail, she said.

The visitors were able to meet Sar Kanika but were not allowed to see Chhoeun Daravy, because guards said she was in quarantine.

Another visitor, Ngel Hean told RFA that Sar Kanika and Chhoeun Daravy are both detained in the same cell. She said Sar Kanika is in poor health because they share the cell with prisoners detained on drug charges who smoke.

She said that the guards are not allowing Sar Kanika and Chhoeun Daravy out of the jail cell to exercise and they now look pale.

“For 14 days, they won’t let them out. Their health is good, but they are being treated like animals.

Nuth Savana of the Prison General department dismissed Ngel Hean’s claims, telling RFA that prisoners are not allowed to smoke inside their cells, but adding that he would look into the issue. He said the visits were brief as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. “The restriction has been placed by the Ministry of Health to prevent infections from visitors,” he said.

Am Sam Ath of the local LICADHO rights group told RFA that the prison should allow visitors to talk freely and for a longer duration. “I think the prison should give the opportunity to the visitors to speak freely with detainees,” he said, noting that lately guards have been increasingly listening in on visits, including when NGOs offer legal advice to prisoners.

Border irregularities

Also on Tuesday, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered National Border Committee Chairman Var Kimhong to meet with 100 families in Tboung Khmum province who say they lost about 60 hectares (148.2 acres) of their ancestral land when recently placed border posts indicated it was part of Vietnam.

Loy Chhoy, an affected villager, told RFA that he supported Hun Sen’s desire to finalize the border, but wants the government to compensate the villagers for lands that had belonged to them for generations. “I am happy with the demarcation, but the government needs to return the land to us if it is taken away by the demarcation process. I have not prepared anything for my meeting with Var Kimhong, but I will ask him for land to start a plantation,” said Loy Chhoy.

RFA could not reach Var Kimhong for comment.

Cambodia Watchdog Council (CWC) President Men Nath told RFA that he is concerned that Var Kimhong will do what Hun Sen directs him to do regardless of what the villagers request.

“I ask Var Kimhong when he returns to not say the demarcation has been done correctly because there are many irregularities,” Men Nath said, adding that that the council will likely not accept Var Kimhong’s explanation of the border.

The CNRP’s Um Sam An told RFA that Var Kimhong needs to resolve the villagers’ issue fairly and should not make his visit as show to defend a neighboring country. “Var Kimhong should not intimidate the villagers and he should give back the 60 hectares of land. If there are irregularities with the border demarcation, it should be redone,” he said.

The CWC, of which Rong Chhun is a member, says that farmers are losing land because Cambodia is demarcating the border based on a 1985 treaty from Vietnam’s 1979-89 occupation of the country following its ouster of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Unresolved border issues between Cambodia and Vietnam, former French colonies from the 1860s to 1954, have sparked incidents in the past, with the construction by Vietnam of military posts in contested areas quickly challenged by Cambodian authorities in Phnom Penh.

A joint communique signed by Cambodia and Vietnam in 1995 stipulates that neither side can make any changes to border markers or allow cross-border cultivation or settlement pending the resolution of outstanding border issues.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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