In a surprise move, four human rights workers and an election official, collectively known as the “Adhoc 5”, were released from pretrial detention yesterday evening, 427 days after they were taken into custody on bribery charges relating to an opposition sex scandal.
Adhoc staffers Lim Mony, Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan and Ny Sokha, and former staffer and the National Election Committee Deputy Secretary-General Ny Chakrya were granted bail yesterday by the investigating judge, Theam Chanpiseth, under Article 276 of the Criminal Code.
The five have been languishing behind bars since April last year, when they were detained for allegedly bribing CNRP President Kem Sokha’s alleged mistress, Khom Chandaraty, to deny a purported extramarital affair. The case has been widely criticised as politically motivated, and the five have strenuously denied the allegations.
A closing order has been issued and the case will now proceed to trial, though a date has not been set. Until then, the five will be free on bail on three conditions, according to Court Administrator Y Rin.
“The court put them under supervision and placed three conditions: they cannot change their residence without permission from the court, and cannot leave the country without the court permission, and must answer to the summons,” Rin said.
Rin offered no further explanation for the release of the prisoners, saying “this is the judge’s decision”.
While the four Adhoc staffers walked out of Prey Sar prison’s CC1 and CC2 detention centres, Chakrya of the NEC was released a little later from PJ prison after a delay in getting the court document to the prison officials.
After a quick blessing ceremony by monks, the four human rights staffers headed to the Adhoc office, while Chakrya went home with his family.
At the Adhoc office, Nay Vanda said he was caught off guard when at 6pm he was informed by prison officials that they would be released and were asked to change into civilian clothes.
“It made me surprised that we got released, and we were so happy to meet our family, comrades and friends,” Vanda added.
Lim Mony said she was thrilled to have left prison, but stood by her activities as a human rights staffer and vowed to continue her work with children and women’s issues.
“I believe that what I did is right under the rules of Cambodia and Adhoc. I still have a very strong commitment to help Cambodians, women and children, as my duty for Adhoc,” said Mony.
Yi Soksan said he was unsure why they had been released yesterday, given that their lawyers had unsuccessfully made multiple requests for bail, but speculated that it may have had something to do with a recent meeting between the US Ambassador William Heidt and Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“I assume it could be the US ambassador, who had a meeting and dialogue with Prime Minister Hun Sen, and one of the agenda [points] must have been the human rights situation in Cambodia,” he said.
Embassy spokesman Jay Raman could not be reached for comment.
Outside PJ prison, Ny Chakrya said he was keen to get back to work and continue his responsibilities at the National Election Committee, with Ny Sokha, back at the Adhoc office, regretting that he had missed the opportunity to monitor the recently concluded commune elections.
Political commentator Cham Bunteth said the release was a welcome move, but added the threat of legal action still hanging over the five meant they would be kept in check.
“The case is still there, so they can be called back anytime,” he said. “It depends on their behaviour towards politics and if they are seen as politically leaning to favour the opposition.”
Ou Virak, head of Future Forum think tank, said that public opinion was strongly against the detention of the five and that there was no legitimate reason to continue to keep them behind bars. He added that Adhoc, which is one of the oldest NGOs in Cambodia, would find it difficult to recuperate from the year-long ordeal of having some of its most senior members in prison.
“I don’t think Adhoc will ever be the same after what has happened. There is no leadership and they will have to make some decisions.”