Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - King's pardon fails to open prison doors for 'anti-Thai' pair

King's pardon fails to open prison doors for 'anti-Thai' pair

King's pardon fails to open prison doors for 'anti-Thai' pair

Two men who were sentenced to extended jail terms for their role in the anti-Thai

riots remained in Prey Sar prison on September 23, five days after they were pardoned

by King Norodom Sihanouk. The King ordered them freed on September 18.

The two remaining prisoners, Ken Sara, 24, a Faculty of Law student, and Thorn Veasna,

19, are now awaiting clearance from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to be freed.

Kim Sarin, director of Prey Sar prison, said on September 23 that he had not yet

received documents ordering their release. Student groups said the pair were being

held illegally.

Um Sam An, former president of the Students' Movement for Democracy, said on September

20 that the MoJ had intentionally delayed preparing the documents for their release.

"We have to deal with the officers at the [MoJ] and the Ministry of Interior

to free Sara and Veasna," said Sam An. "We spent about $100 on 'under-the-table'

fees to officers."

He expects that the pair to be freed by the end of September, but Sam An planned

to file a complaint with the court over their unlawful pre-trial detention period,

which had exceeded the permitted six months.

The judge in the case, Tan Senarong, announced the verdicts on September 15. He indicated

at the sentencing hearing that Sara and Veasna had received longer prison terms because

he found convincing evidence of their guilt in the riots.

Sara, who was convicted of inciting violence, racism and participating in an illegal

demonstration, was sentenced to nine months with seven months of his term already

served. Veasna, convicted of inciting racism, received an additional 20 days on his

seven-month pre-trial detention period.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court also convicted 54 others arrested after the riots

on reduced charges of theft. The court sentenced them to time already served and

ordered them released on September 15. Two others were freed because charges against

them were dropped.

All of the 21 who appeared in court during the trial had spent at least seven months

in Prey Sar jail. Another 37 were tried in absentia. Sarin said that all of the detainees

in the riot case besides Sara and Veasna had been freed on September 16.

A local human rights monitor, on condition of anonymity, criticized the trial process

as "political". He said it failed to fairly prosecute those responsible

for the destruction during the January 29 riots in the capital that left the Thai

embassy and many Thai businesses in ruins. He said the investigating judge never

attempted to identify the true leaders behind the riots.

"The situation was tense before the riots, but the authorities took no measures

to protect the Thai Embassy or other Thai assets," he said. "I think that

the trial was a show to hide what was behind the scenes."

He also faulted the court for not exonerating suspects accused of theft-a charge

he said did not apply to those scavenging items once the riot subsided.

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