Poipet unionist and CNRP official Mang Puthy walked free on bail on Saturday, three weeks after his arrest for allegedly hitting an immigration officer with his car – a move one observer said suggests local authorities are now trying to “save face” following a public backlash.
Puthy, who also goes by Din Puthy, was charged with intentional violence and sent to pre-trial detention late last month, accused of striking down immigration official Chhean Pisith near a border checkpoint in Banteay Meanchey’s Poipet town.
The case sparked a massive uproar on social media after a video circulated in which Puthy’s car can be seen sitting stationary when Pisith collapses in front of it, quickly leading to a series of memes mocking Pisith and calling for Puthy’s release.
Pisith’s story lost even more credibility when CCTV video from a Thai guesthouse showed the official walking with no visible injuries just days after immigration official colleagues had posted photos of him wearing a neck brace and being wheeled around on a gurney.
Puthy’s lawyer, Kim Socheat, yesterday said bail had been granted by Appeal Court judge Nguon Rathana on Friday and processed the following day. “But he is still under court supervision and cannot leave without the court’s permission and must appear before court when called to appear,” Socheat said.
Puthy, who is director of the Cambodia Informal Economy Reinforced Association (CIERA), told The Post he was happy to be released on bail but that the court should have dropped the charges altogether as there was clear evidence showing he wasn’t at fault.
He added that while he has routinely intervened on behalf of transportation workers when they’ve had disputes with police or immigration officials, the conflicts were never serious enough to warrant what he considers an obvious attempt to frame him.
“I have helped workers at the Poipet border, but I have not fought or had disputes with these police officials. I don’t know if the police are angry with me or not,” he said.
Puthy said he was trying to turn his car around on the day of the incident when he saw Pisith gesturing at him to stop, which he did but the immigration official kept walking towards the car and fell in front of it.
In the weeks since the arrest, Provincial Governor Suon Bovor has called for Pisith to be transferred, and Poipet authorities have waived fees on border entrance cards – documentation required for short-term crossings – measures labour advocate Moeun Tola said were attempts to quell the outrage.
“This is a habit of the ruling party. They just try to cover it up by pulling a curtain over it,” the head of labour rights group Central said.
Tola said other cases involving unionists, land activists and human rights officials had met with similar fates – the government attempting to “save face” after pushing for convictions in dubious cases, which could be revived at an opportune time.
“But the people are now smart. They have other sources of information and don’t have to rely on news from government-affiliated radio and television outlets,” he said.
Following Puthy’s release, local media reported that about 20 Poipet residents had met with immigration police officials asking that Pisith not be transferred because of his work in ensuring “public order”.
Sam Chankea, Adhoc’s Banteay Meanchey coordinator, confirmed the meeting but said it was unclear who the 20 people were. Immigration police chief Sim Samath said he had listened to the group and would consider their suggestions when making a final call on Pisith’s transfer.