After serving just a few weeks of an eight-month prison sentence, a two-star general of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) was granted a royal pardon on Friday, a decision described by some as a “mockery of justice” and others as not surprising.
A letter obtained by the Post, bearing the signature of King Norodom Sihamoni and dated May 16, orders 45-year-old Chea Dara to be released from Phnom Penh’s Police Judiciary (PJ) prison, where he was being held for a defamation conviction.
“The Royal Pardon comes into effect on the date signed,” the letter says.
Hou Puthvisal, director of PJ prison, confirmed yesterday that Dara was released on Friday evening.
In 2010, Dara filed a lawsuit claiming he was cheated out of millions of dollars in a fake land deal by General Doeun Sovann and land dealer Chuob Chan. The two counter-sued for defamation and won.
While Dara was convicted in absentia by the Supreme Court on December 9, it took police more than four months to track him down. He was arrested at a restaurant in Chamkarmon district on April 25.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders’ Project, said that while Dara’s release defies Cambodian jurisprudence, it is not surprising.
“According to the law, one should serve two-thirds of their sentence [before being released], but the King still has the power,” he said. “People need to know there is a legal system so they will not do anything wrong. In many cases when political [or] military [figures] are involved, [pardons are issued].
“In practice, for special cases like Sam Rainsy, they’ve never served any time,” he said, referring to two separate royal pardons granted to the opposition leader. But opposition lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua said that Rainsy’s evasion of prison was not the same.
“With Mr Rainsy, it was a political issue; he should never have been there,” she said, adding that the release of figures with links to the ruling party is “very common”.
“It creates a culture of impunity; it’s a mockery of justice,” she said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY