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Justice Ministry says hands tied in CNRP arrests

Despite opposition party hopes to the contrary, the Ministry of Justice yesterday rejected the idea that it could intervene in the court system to release Meach Sovannara, a Cambodia National Rescue Party official jailed last week.

According to ministry spokesman Kim Santepheap, a letter from CNRP president Sam Rainsy asking Interior Minister Sar Kheng to help release Sovannara had been forwarded on to the Ministry of Justice.

But it sent the letter back to the Interior Ministry yesterday, simply saying that it couldn’t do anything because the courts were independent, he said.

“Based on the law, the detention of Mr Meach Sovannara is [based] on the power of the court. Mr Meach Sovannara has the right to ask the investigating judge who detained him to release him on bail, but whether the judge agrees or not is the judge’s right,” Santepheap said.

He added, however, that Sovannara, who was arrested last week for ignoring a string of court summonses, could try the Appeal Court.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigating judge Keo Mony denied Sovannara’s bail request last week. He has been charged with leading an insurrection in connection with an opposition-led protest in July at Freedom Park that descended into violence.

Chan Chen, Sovannara’s lawyer, said he had already formally requested that Mony release him.

“My client has a position and a clear address. He does not have any intention to escape,” he said.

“We are waiting to see if the judge or the Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Interior reach a compromise to release my client or not. If the court denies him [again], we will appeal.”

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for comment but has previously made clear that the outcome in Sovannara’s case could very well depend on politics.

Judge Mony declined to comment yesterday on that issue but separately said he had questioned Ouk Pich Samnang, another CNRP activist jailed and charged in connection with the July protest.

“Now his investigation is completely finished. And he has now been sent back to prison to await his upcoming trial,” he said, declining to comment in detail.

Pich Samnang, who was arrested in October, said he had denied all accusations during his questioning. He has been charged with intentional violence, causing damage and preventing public authorities from carrying out their duty, according to deputy court prosecutor Seang Sok.

“I was innocent and was only the victim of accusation in this case,” Pich Samnang said.

Mu Sochua, a senior CNRP lawmaker, condemned the fact that Pich Samnang had been questioned for 30 minutes without his lawyer present.

“I think that the action of this investigative judge has violated the court’s procedures and the accused’s rights,” she said, adding that a complaint would be filed with the justice minister.

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