Is it house arrest or not? That’s the question dividing the Kingdom’s legal experts and politicians, with little agreement other than this – being outside a Cambodian jail is better than being incarcerated.
Officials with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and the Ministry of Justice have defended the decision to allow former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) opposition leader Kem Sokha to be transferred from Trapaing Phlong prison to his home in Phnom Penh.
However, the officials maintain that the move is not “house arrest” as Sokha, who was arrested on treason charges in September last year, two months before the Supreme Court dissolved his party, is still under court supervision.
His supporters say that the 65-year-old should never have been imprisoned in the first place, and have called his court bail another example of the ruling party’s control over the judicial system.
And they have another strong point – as has been previously reported, Cambodia has no law that allows for house arrest.
Minister of Interior Sar Kheng called the situation “detention within a determined boundary”, and Prime Minister Hun Sen said the location was changed on humanitarian reasons.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court said in a statement that Sokha was allowed to leave under the “supervision of the court” because of health problems. The statement added that “this is not the case for house arrest.”
The court explained that Kem Sokha would have “enough freedom” to go outside his home as long as it is within the boundary determined by the investigating judge.
But legal expert Sok Sam Oeun, the chief attorney at AMRIN Law and Consultants Group, said if Sokha is under the court’s supervision and has boundaries restricting his movements, then it is equal to detention “because he does not have the freedom to move.
“If there is a limitation, saying that you cannot go out of this area, it is not a release. If there is a restricted area, it is, obviously, a detention.” Sam Oen said. He continued: “If he stays at home, there can be no claim that his human right has been violated.”
Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin called the transfer a “purely legal procedure” under Article 223 of the Criminal Code, which allows the investigating judge to determine certain conditions for a defendant.
“In the case of Kem Sokha, if he wants to stay in his home, it is his right to do so. If he is not leaving the house, he only remains inside. If he wants to be outside, he needs to remain within the boundary determined by the investigating judge,” said Malin.
Former CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath claimed that Sokha’s detention was a “facilitated procedure” that was “politically motivated”.
“Our country does not have house arrest. The government invented new legal procedure allowing Kem Sokha to stay at his house because we don’t have a law for that,” he claimed.