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Lawmaker’s bail denied to prevent ‘social unrest’

Opposition lawmaker Um Sam An is escorted into the Court of Appeals in Phnom Penh yesterday.
Opposition lawmaker Um Sam An is escorted into the Court of Appeals in Phnom Penh yesterday. Hong Menea

Lawmaker’s bail denied to prevent ‘social unrest’

The Appeal Court yesterday ruled that CNRP lawmaker Um Sam An must stay in custody on the grounds that he is a threat to social stability and may meddle in the case against him.

Sam An was arrested on April 11 for past criticisms of the government’s border policy after returning from an extended trip to the US, where he is also a citizen.

Sam An’s lawyers yesterday appealed the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s decision to deny their client bail. The appeal chamber was in session for about two hours before upholding the previous ruling.

Outside the court, Sam An’s lawyers vowed to launch another appeal in the Supreme Court ahead of a scheduled hearing on May 25.

Prior to yesterday’s hearing, the parliamentarian declared his incarceration “unconstitutional” as he was led past reporters in hand-cuffs.

“The person who protects the territory is in prison, and the person who caused the loss of territory becomes a patriot,” he said.

Lawyer Choung Choungy said the judge had cited the potential for “social unrest” if Sam An were released, and also suggested the parliamentarian might attempt to influence the case.

Chairman of the appeal panel Phou Sao Sun said an ongoing probe meant the lawmaker should remain in custody.

“If we let him out on bail, it will impede the investigation,” Sao Sun said.

Sam An is charged with incitement offences for alleging in a Facebook post that Cambodian authorities had ceded land to Vietnam by using improper maps to demarcate the border.

The sensitive issue flared into a political storm last year, and also saw opposition Senator Hong Sok Hour arrested for a border-related Facebook post in August.

Both Sam An and Sok Hour enjoy parliamentary immunity under the constitution, which their lawyers, and party, say has been violated.

The authorities, however, have broadly interpreted a clause that allows them to arrest lawmakers caught in the act – or in flagrante delicto – to justify the arrests, which have been widely slammed as politically motivated.

Sok Hour’s trial, meanwhile, has stalled midway to allow prosecutors time to dig-up more evidence.

Choungy, who also acts for the senator, said a Supreme Court hearing was scheduled for June 8 to contest the lower court’s handling of the case.

However, he said, the men’s freedom was ultimately dependent on a political resolution.

Yesterday, rights group Licadho launched a webpage to highlight the growing number of political prisoners in Cambodia, which currently stands at 29 individuals, they said.

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