TWO Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) members who say they were tortured by authorities after participating in a 1998 political rally have had their bid for political asylum in the United States blocked by an appeal court there.
In a legal opinion filed on Thursday, Judge Richard C Tallman of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld an earlier ruling by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) rejecting the pair’s asylum requests, saying their asylum claim was riddled with inconsistencies.
According to the opinion, the pair – Kin Sombath and his wife, Prak Bunnary – are not eligible for asylum because they did not mention the 1998 demonstration in any of their original asylum applications and because of inconsistencies between their testimonies and those of other witnesses.
“[The two] cannot satisfy their burden of showing entitlement to the relief they sought,” the opinion stated.
Kin Sombath and Prak Bunnary entered the US on June 28, 2001, and March 29, 2002, respectively, without immigrant visas or other relevant entry documents.
Prak Bunnnary, a member of the SRP since 1995 or 1996, testified before the BIA that she was arrested in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on October 31, 1998, after attending a political rally on an unspecified date. The opinion cites her testimony that she was “slapped, kicked, hit with electrical batons and suffocated”, and that her skull was fractured before she was transferred to the city’s T-3 prison.
She also testified that, after being released on November 17, 1999, Ouk Moeurn, a government official, helped her escape to the US in June 2001 by providing her with a US tourist visa bearing a pseudonym. She told the BIA that she was afraid that she would be arrested or killed if forced to return to Cambodia.
Kin Sombath, a former reporter for the opposition-aligned Proleant Cheat newspaper, said he also took part in the 1998 demonstration and was arrested on November 10. He testified to the BIA that under interrogation by police in Kampong Thom province, he was hit with the butt of a gun, a plastic baton and an electric taser.
Kim Sambath said he eventually spent 13 months at T-3 prison before being released in December 1999 and smuggled out of the country with the help of then-SRP Senator Thach Setha.
Ouk Moeurn, the former SRP member who aided the pair, said Sunday that they should not be deported. “The United States should not send them back to Cambodia because they have lived there for a long time like other Cambodians,” he said.
Ouk Moeurn, 71, who resigned from the SRP a few years ago, said he helped the two because they both wanted to live in the US, but did not give any other details about the case.
Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap could not confirm or deny the validity of the allegations raised by Kin Sambath and Prak Bunnary, but stated that peddling falsehood was not uncommon for the opposition.
“It is characteristic of the SRP that they raise untrue issues because they want to live in a third country,” he said.