Extradited refugee Sam Sokha was sentenced on Thursday by the Kampong Speu Provincial Court to two years in jail for throwing a shoe at a CPP billboard, months after she was convicted in absentia shortly before her deportation from Thailand.
Sokha posted a video on Facebook last April showing her throwing a sandal twice at a ruling party billboard in Preah Sihanouk province. After authorities announced they were seeking her arrest, she then fled to Thailand and was recognised by the UN as a refugee.
However, she was arrested by Thai officials in January and following a January 25 trial at Kampong Speu Provincial Court, Sokha was convicted in absentia of “incitement to discriminate” and “insulting a public official” and handed a two-year sentence and 5 million riel ($1,250) fine. She was deported back to Cambodia on February 8.
The court held a retrial on March 15 and announced the verdict on Thursday, upholding the same sentence, said Licadho provincial coordinator Khon Khoy. He said the trial was held in the absence of the plaintiff, the plaintiff’s lawyer and Sokha’s lawyer.
“I heard the name of the complainant was Lim Sarin, but we don’t know who he is,” he said.
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Khoy said Sokha admitted her guilt in court, hoping her confession would her result in some leniency.
“In the hearing, the accused said she regretted her deed and wanted the authorities and Samdech [Hun Sen] to pardon her. Her families also asked for that. But finally, the court did not agree,” Khoy said.
Presiding Judge Uk Retkunthea and Prosecutor Ou Phat could not be reached on Thursday.
Un Chanthol, Sokha’s lawyer, said he wasn’t present at the court and had heard conflicting reports about the 5 million riel fine, though he confirmed the conviction.
Amnesty International said the conviction was another “chilling example” of the Hun Sen government’s monitoring of Cambodians abroad and was being used to “silence or scare others also voicing their criticism” of the administration.
“Sam Sokha’s case is also a chilling example that Hun Sen is making good on his threats that he is ‘watching’ Cambodians abroad who voice dissent against the authorities,” said Amnesty spokesman Olof Blomqvist.
He added that increased cooperation among Asean countries in the area of surveillance did not bode well for dissenting voices in the region. “The threat of illegal deportation in the region – back to countries where activists could face jail on trumped up charges – is clearly very real.”