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Jarai Youth Jailed for CPP Sign Damage

Ratanakkiri provincial court authorities have detained one ethnic minority Jarai man for damaging a Cambodian People's Party billboard, officials said Thursday.

Sev Tha, who family members claim is 17 years old, was arrested July 2 and sent to the court the following day, where he was charged with destruction of private property, court officials said.

Court and police officials claim Sev Tha is 22 years old. He is being held in Ratanakkiri provincial prison awaiting trial.

Sev Tha was arrested following a complaint by a CPP representative in Soeung commune, Borkeo district, Hor Ang, first deputy police chief of Ratanakkiri, said Thursday.

This is the first time that a political party lodged a complaint about a signboard to the police, Hor Ang said.

"On behalf of the police, when the complaint comes, we must carry out our duty in accordance with procedure," he said. "If we do not carry it out, we will be accused of bias in carrying out our duty."

No other sign damage has been reported, a provincial election committee official said.

Human rights officials said the alleged crime was minor and did not warrant prison time.

Sev Tha committed an "unintentional mistake," said Pen Bunna, Adhoc coordinator for Ratanakkiri.

The signboard costs between $20 and $30, so Sev Tha should be "educated" and pay compensation, rather than be detained, Pen Bunna said.

Sev Na, Sev Tha's older brother, denied his sibling destroyed the sign intentionally.

Sev Tha was drunk and moved the CPP billboard out of his way after tripping over it on the way home from a 16-hours drinking session at a shop, Sev Na said.