PREAH Vihear provincial court has rejected a bail request for three villagers charged in connection with a complaint filed against an NGO that has come under fire for alleged human rights abuses, a court official said yesterday.
The three villagers – 45-year-old Sath Savoeun, 45-year-old Kim Sophal and 62-year-old Srey Sophan – were detained last Thursday after the court charged them with incitement, disinformation and forgery.
Investigating judge Sor Savuth said at the time that the villagers had forced families in Choam Ksan district to thumbprint and submit complaints against the Drugs and AIDS Research and Prevention Organisation, which is run by Pen Loem, a one-star general with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces who is also an adviser to Senate President Chea Sim. The complaints accused the NGO, which has received a social land concession in the district, of subjecting families who live on the concession to “threats, rape and torture”, among other abuses.
Pen Loem, who could not be reached yesterday, has previously denied all allegations against DARPO, and claimed to have had the support of most of the families who live on the concession.
Yesterday, Sor Savuth said the release of the three villagers on bail would jeopardise the investigation of the case against them.
“I can’t let them out of prison. If they do go, they will destroy my investigation,” he said.
“I have already told their lawyer about this. Let the lawyer protest according to the law.”
Long Lun, who is representing the three villagers, said yesterday that he had not received word of the judge’s decision, but that he planned to take the matter to the Appeal Court.
“When I asked for my clients to be released on bail I had hope that it would happen,” he said.
“It is his right to deny this, but I will have to complain to the Appeal Court.” Sor Savuth also said that he believed the court possessed sufficient evidence against the three villagers to convict them.
“We have evidence that they are using fake documents and using other people’s thumbprints to complain against the Drugs and AIDS Research and Prevention Organisation,” he said. “They have confessed that they prepared these documents.”
Around 50 residents of the social land concession in Choam Ksan have convened in Preah Vihear town, where they met yesterday with officials from the rights group Adhoc and prepared a complaint to be filed at the provincial court today.
Sam Duong, the 30-year-old son of Sath Savoeun, said yesterday that the group “could not accept the judge’s bail refusal”, and that the three villagers “had not made any mistakes” in the case.