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Four freed, but charges stand

Sok Dalis (left) and Tut Chan Panha after their release from Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh
Sok Dalis (left) and Tut Chan Panha after their release from Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh. Along with two others, they were held for five days. PHA LINA

Four freed, but charges stand

Four people charged with incitement for allegedly handing out cards with printed messages were released on bail yesterday, less than one week after their arrests.

But charges remain for all four, who are accused of producing and distributing materials encouraging a military coup.

“I was released on bail, but I remain charged,” Sok Dalis, 28, said in a brief comment to reporters after being released from Prey Sar prison yesterday afternoon. “I will speak about this later, because now I am too tired.”

Tut Chan Panha, 28, who was arrested with Dalis last Thursday, would only say: “I did not do anything wrong.”

The pair were arrested while picking up flowers they intended to hand out to troops posted around the city. Police officials maintain the flowers bore cards from dissident group Khmer People Power Movement encouraging soldiers to “turn the gun barrels toward the dictator”, a claim denied by the accused and rights groups.

Hy Borin, and Ly Linpheng, a printing company staffer and print shop owner, respectively, were arrested and charged in relation to printing the cards, and were also released yesterday afternoon on bail.

Scores of opposition youth members appeared at Prey Sar prison to greet the group, but were snubbed by prison officials who released the four through a back entrance, causing momentary chaos when they sought to stop their vehicle.

Speaking outside the prison gates, friends and family members of the accused said they were relieved the bail request had been granted but were concerned about the potential for a future re-arrest. Court officials could not be reached for comment, but if found guilty, the group could face up to two years in prison.

“Now, I am happy that my son can go back to school again. But I don’t know about the charges,” Panha’s mother, Chan Setha, said.

Nearby, a friend of Panha’s – blogger Keo Samdy – defended his friend’s actions, saying he had broken no laws.

“In a democratic country, one has the right to fully participate in political activities – especially the youths. What he has done is not a political trend, but a humanitarian act.… He wants to show youthful courage to the soldiers and to the government to encourage them to find a legal solution.”

CNRP lawmaker Ho Vann, who met the group at prison, called on the charges to be dropped.

“I would like the court to review the charges, because they are innocent,” he said, adding that the arrests were likely carried out for their chilling effect.

“They threaten to discourage the youths [from activism].”

Rights monitors said there was little to suggest any of the four were guilty of the crimes.

“The two youths picking up the flowers did not carry leaflets, they just fetched the flowers … to give them to the armed forces to call for peace and refrain from the use of violence against people,” senior Licadho investigator Am Sam Ath said, adding that the charges seemed similarly groundless for the printers.

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