CAMBODIAN officials say they will file a complaint with Thailand’s Surin provincial court after it sentenced six Cambodians to prison terms on Friday for illegal logging.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said Sunday that each of the six was sentenced to two years and three months in prison.
Cambodia’s plan to dispatch a team of legal advisers to Thailand on Friday were upset at the last minute when the provincial court said the trial had been rescheduled; however, the court then proceeded with the hearing after all, Koy Koung said.
“The Thai court told Cambodia that the six people had requested that they not be defended by lawyers, but we did not believe the Thai court. The Thai court has violated the legal procedure because in such a criminal case, there must be lawyers to defend the suspects,” Koy Kuong said.
On January 25, seven residents of O’Smach commune’s Akphivat village in Oddar Meanchey province reportedly crossed the Thai-Cambodian border to collect rattan.
I am concerned about my wife and my baby, who may have to be born in prison.
Six members of the group, two of whom were pregnant, were subsequently arrested by Thai soldiers and detained in the pending trial.
Officials in Bangkok said Sunday that they did not have any information on the case and declined to comment. Officials at the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh could not be reached for comment.
Koy Kuong accused the court of deliberately passing false information in order to prevent Cambodian involvement in the villagers’ defence.
According to Thai law, Koy Kuong added, the villagers should not have received a jail sentence of more than 40 days.
“We are upset and we will file a complaint to Surin provincial court to reexamine the case,” he said.
Yam Pith, 32, the husband of Seung Kuok, a member of the imprisoned group who is three months pregnant, said that the sentence was excessive.
“I was shocked when my wife told me over the phone that she had been sentenced to two years and three months in prison – she was only looking for rattan,” Yam Pith said. “I am concerned about my wife and my baby, who may have to be born in prison.”
Na Rein, Banteay Meanchey provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said relatives of the imprisoned villagers plann to file complaints through his organisation this week.
Srey Naren, Adhoc’s provincial coordinator for Oddar Meanchey, said last month that the villagers had been collecting rattan in an undemarcated area along the border at the time of their arrest.
They had travelled there many times before without incident, he added.
“Thai soldiers have never arrested them there before, and we don’t know why they did this time,” he said, adding that Thai soldiers had been behaving “cruelly” towards Cambodian villagers in recent months.
There have been numerous incidents along the Thai-Cambodian border related to illegal logging and gathering firewood in recent months.
Since September, at least seven Cambodians have been shot and killed by Thai troops while logging illegally in Thai territory near the border with Oddar Meanchey province, government officials and rights workers say.
Nanh Sovan, chief of the Cambodian-Thai border communication team at O’Smach International Border Crossing, said he planned to meet with Thai officials on Wednesday to seek the release of the three prisoners convicted on Friday, including the two pregnant women, though a request for this was denied last week.