Thai and Cambodian authorities met earlier this week to discuss their extradition agreement and strengthen prisoner exchange – a meeting that came just days after Thailand extradited Cambodian refugee Sam Sokha amid concerns about the fate of more than 100 opposition figures who have fled the country.
General Department of Prisons General Director Chan Kimseng met with Krit Krasaedhibaya, commander of the Bangkok Remand Prison, on Monday to discuss extradition and the re-integration of prisoners into society to prevent future crime, according to a departmental Facebook post.
Prisons spokesman Nuth Savna said around 2,000 Cambodians were detained in Thailand, compared to just 52 Thais in Cambodia. He said many items were discussed, but would not address whether Cambodia requested the return of political exiles, whom he said were actually criminals.
“They ran there by themselves and some of them have an arrest warrant against them,” he said, meaning Cambodia could request extradition.
“They committed a crime and when we wanted to arrest them, they used the political excuse to seek asylum,” he added.
Last month, Sokha was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison by the Kampong Speu Provincial Court after a viral video on Facebook showed her throwing a sandal at a ruling party billboard bearing the face of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Sokha, who was labelled a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International this week, had been recognised as a refugee by the United Nations and talks were reportedly underway to resettle her in a third country when she was arrested by Thai police for overstaying her visa.
She was extradited on February 8, a move that rights groups said breached international law.
Her extradition sparked fears that more than 100 Cambodian opposition members hiding out in Thailand, where they fled after their party was forcibly dissolved in November, could face the same fate. In recent days, former Cambodia National Rescue Party members reported being visited by Thai police.
Sokha’s lawyer in Thailand, Koreeyor Manuchae, said she had taken legal action in an attempt to get Thai authorities to present Sokha in a Thai court, which a judge rejected as Sokha was already deported.
Sokha’s younger brother, Sam Dara, said he had visited his sister three times in prison this week. “She feels ill, she looks so pale – she’s in shock,” he said.
In an email on Monday, International Federation for Human Rights Asia Director Andrea Giorgetta warned of a “quid pro quo among the two authoritarian governments” that could also affect Thai activists in hiding in Cambodia.
But Thai exile and Redshirt dissident Jakrapob Penkair was unconcerned yesterday, despite the passage of Cambodia’s lèse majesté laws, which now make insulting the King a crime in both countries and would theoretically enable his extradition.
“Since most of us in the red-shirt Movement do not stay permanently in Cambodia, but rather moving around, we run a low risk of being watched by the Cambodian authority, who does not want any sensitive issues with the Thai side either,” he said in an email.