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One released in DARPO case

PREAH Vihear provincial court has released on bail one of three villagers charged in connection with a complaint filed against an NGO that has come under fire for alleged human rights abuses, the villagers’ lawyer said yesterday.

Long Lun, the lawyer, said 45-year-old Kim Sophal was released last week after posting a bail payment of 5 million riels (US$1,179), but that the other two suspects in the case – 45-year-old Sath Savoeun and 62-year-old Srey Sophan – remained behind bars.

“One of three suspects was released, but the other two are still detained. I am appealing to the Appeal Court for their release,” Long Lun said. “I will continue to demand their release because my clients have not made any mistakes in this case.”

The three villagers were detained on September 16 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 living on the concession to “threats, rape and torture”, among other abuses.

Pen Loem could not be reached yesterday, but he has previously denied the allegations against his NGO.

Sor Savuth said last week that he had decided to deny bail for the three suspects out of concern that their release might compromise his investigation into the case.

Yesterday, he declined to comment on the release of Kim Sophal beyond saying that Long Lun “knows all about this and can share everything involving his clients”.

But Long Lun said he was puzzled by the release of Kim Sophal.

“I do not understand why he is the only one released and what is behind this,” he said.

He added that, according to a letter he had received from the court, Kim Sophal had “refused to accept me as his lawyer” going forward.

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