The Appeal Court yesterday delayed a bid by 11 imprisoned CNRP activists to contest their conviction for involvement in an “insurrection”, and ruled that one of the group, dual Cambodian and US citizen Meach Sovannara, was not allowed to leave the prison for medical treatment in Cambodia or abroad.
In the controversial case’s first appeal hearing, lawyers for the group asked the court to nullify the July 2015 ruling by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentencing the men to between seven and 20 years in prison for their roles in an anti-government protest at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park in 2014.
The lawyers – Choung Choungy and Sam Sokong – argued that the verdict, delivered despite the group not being represented by their lawyers, was unlawful.
But Appeal Court judge Phlong Samnang said he would consider neither the motions against the verdict nor the sentence until April.
Samnang initially questioned whether the appeal had followed the correct procedure, though when pressed by the defence, said the delay was necessary because the plaintiffs, nearly 40 security guards attacked by protesters at the rally, were not present.
He did, however, reject a bid to overturn the Municipal Court’s decision to bar Sovannara, head of the opposition’s information and media department, from getting medical treatment outside prison, unless it first established that prison doctors were unable to provide sufficient treatment.
A doctor has recommended Sovannara leave the country for help with enduring head problems stemming from a serious car accident last year, the court heard.
In an outburst during proceedings, Sovannara condemned the decision, explaining he had been scheduled to consult a physician in the US when summoned to, and swiftly sentenced by, the municipal court.
“[The municipal] court is inhumane,” Sovannara told the judges. “I was sick when I came to the court; the court convicted a sick man.” Choungy argued his client would not abscond.
“Mr Meach Sovannara has never escaped. He has joined every trial. He has family in the United States, so blocking him from leaving out of the country; it is like dividing him from his family. It is very inhumane,” Choung Choungy said.
“His mother is old, so there is not any reason blocking him from leaving the country.”
Sokong, after the hearing, said the decision breached Sovannara’s right to treatment.
“His illness is serious like this; [the court] should let him go for health treatment at a hospital he is confident in.”
Sovannara’s mother, Meach Mary, pleaded for her only son’s release. “There are two, just mother and child. I am very sad, please help to release my child,” she told journalists at the court.
While being escorted out of the court, Sovannara said his fate lay in the hands of politicians, one in particular.
“[The case] is politically motivated, so it must be resolved by political motives, and I hope Prime Minister Hun Sen will understand about this problem,” said Sovannara, among three of the group sentenced to 20 years in prison for leading the insurrection.
Am Sam Ath, a senior coordinator at rights group Licadho, agreed.
“If there is no political resolution, all of these 11 activists, and others embroiled in political cases, such as Senator Hong Sok Hour, will not be freed from prison.”