In a move some observers believe lays the groundwork for a pardon bid, convicted Thai spies Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipattanapaiboon had their appeals officially dropped yesterday, one day before the first anniversary of their arrests.
Judge Samrith Sophal, who chaired the Court of Appeal hearing, said Veera and Ratree had initially asked to withdraw the appeal against their sentences nine months ago, without explaining the long delay in acting on their request.
“Your appeal case is ended,” Judge Samrith Sophal told the pair before a packed courtroom, saying they would be sent back to Prey Sar prison.
On February 1, Veera, a leader of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, popularly known as the Yellow Shirts, and Ratree, his secretary, were sentenced to eight and six years in jail respectively by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on charges of illegal entry, entering a restricted military base and espionage.
They were arrested on December 29, 2010 with five others, including current Thai Democrat Party MP Panich Vikitsreth, after they crossed the border into Banteay Meanchey province, allegedly to inspect the border demarcation process.
On March 14, 2011, Veera and Ratree asked a Thai lawyer to lodge an appeal, but reversed course two weeks later and asked to have the appeal dropped.
Wearing a blue prison uniform, Veera, who was joined by a number of family members at the hearing, said he had been treated well during his one-year stay in prison, but complained that he was plagued by insect bites at night.
“The food and the people are fine with me, but I have a problem with bed bugs biting me every night,” Veera said via a translator.
The long-delayed dropping of Veera and Ratree’s appeals came only one day before the start of a planned two-day visit by Thai Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul and Minister of Energy Pichai Naripthaphan.
When asked whether Surapong will help to secure his release during the trip, Veera said he was not sure, but he hoped the current Thai government – one with considerably friendlier relations with Cambodia than its predecessor – will consider helping him.
A report in yesterday’s Bangkok Post said that the Pheu Thai-led government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is optimistic that Veera and Ratree will be freed soon and that their release will be one of the topics that Foreign Minister Surapong raises during his visit.
Veera and Ratree’s imprisonment remains an important issue to the Thai people, Parinya Sirisarakarn, commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, told the Post after yesterday’s hearing.
Parinya said that Veera’s decision to withdraw his appeal likely signals he wants help from the [Thai] government and believes the King of Cambodia will give him a royal pardon.
“At the beginning, [Veera] was quite mouthy, but right now, he has calmed down,” said Parinya, who is assigned to monitor the Cambodian-Thai conflict. “He understands [his current situation] better and better.”
Ou Virak, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, agreed that the timing of the long-delayed appeals dismissal is more than coincidence.
“It is a sign that the government wants to ask for pardon for these two Thais,” Ou Virak said.
“Surapong’s visit is a big issue, and two main agendas for discussion, I think, will be the border conflict and [the Veera] case, among others.”