Phnom Penh Municipal Court has rejected an appeal from an opposition senator to be released from trial detention on bail.
Sen. Hong Sok Hour, who holds French citizenship, has been detained since August and is facing charges of incitement and treason, for posting a document on Facebook he claims proves Cambodia is losing land to Vietnamese encroachment—a sensitive political issue for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
Human Rights observers criticized Friday’s decision by the court, claiming it has more to do with political bias and unfruitful talks between the ruling party and opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party over election reform.
Hong Sok Hour's lawyer, Chuong Chun Ngy, told VOA Khmer that the municipal court opened two different court proceedings Friday. In the first, the court denied his bail request, claiming Hong Sok Hour’s release could cause “social chaos.” In the second, the court continued his prosecution over the Facebook post.
The bail denial is a violation of Hong Sok Hour’s basic rights, his lawyer said, because he is aging and suffering heart problems that require regular check-ups and medication. And the decision came despite Hong Sok Hour’s offer of $50,00 and the surrender of his French passport.
“It has severe impacts on my client's rights, based on the fact that he's suffering from a disease, and also he could not escape,” Chuong Chun Ngy said. “The court has the option to put conditions on him to avoid causing any trouble, and not run away. Yet the court chose the other way and decided to detain him further. This affects his basic rights. Furthermore, he is in his 60s and needs care from family and specialist doctors.”
The CPP and Prime Minister Hun Sen are especially sensitive to criticism over ties with Vietnam, as many Cambodians remain embittered over the decade-long Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia, after the ouster of the Khmer Rouge, in January 1979.
The arrest of Hong Sok Hour, a prominent Rescue Party figure, came just days after Hun Sen made a public call for it. Rights and democracy groups have decried the arrest, saying it was done without proper procedure.
Chuong Chun Ngy said his client is trying to prove he was not inciting treason by posting the document on social media. Rather, he was offering the document up in the spirit of public education about the border situation, he said.
In a statement Friday, the rights group Adhoc said Hong Sok Hour has provided a reasonable case to be released on bail, and they called for his release.
Ny Chakriya, head of Adhoc's investigation unit, who observed the hearing on Friday, told VOA Khmer that the “evidence” shown the court does not add up, given the charges against him. The court appears to be operating politically, he said, holding Hong Sok Hour as “a hostage for the Cambodian People’s Party to put pressure on the National Rescue Party [in talks over] the reformation and amendment of election laws.”
At least 10 other activists and supporters of the Rescue Party have been similarly arrested, charged and detained in recent months, as the two sides continue talks over election reform. On Thursday, members of both parties met in an effort to improve what they call a “culture of dialogue.”