For more than three hours Wednesday, jailed opposition lawmaker Cheam Channy and the two men accused of killing union leader Chea Vichea defended themselves in a last-ditch attempt at bail at the Supreme Court.
In the end, however, the three men were carted back to prison for at least two more nights after the five judges presiding over the hearing decided to wait until Friday to deliver their decision.
A court official said the court was forced to delay the decisions because of a time shortage caused by the number of cases to be heard Wednesday.
But some said decisions should have been made immediately, especially for Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun who have been detained almost 18 months for allegedly assassinating Chea Vichea.
The law states suspects cannot be held longer than six months in pretrial detention.
“It is an injustice if the court continues to detain my client inside the prison,” said lawyer Chum Sovannaly, who is representing Born Samnang.
The three men were driven to court in military police vans early in the morning, and as the hearings were conducted, dozens of heavily armed police and military police patrolled the surrounding streets.
Many people, including Born Samnang’s family, were forced to listen to the proceedings through a speaker in the court’s courtyard after the doors were shut because of the press of people inside.
During the hearing, Cheam Channy proclaimed his innocence and said the charges against him were “baseless.”
He was arrested Feb 3 for allegedly organizing a so-called illegal armed force.
The Sam Rainsy Party maintains he was merely leading a legitimate “shadow cabinet” to monitor government military activities.
“We have no motivation to overthrow the government,” he told the court. “We are a political party.”
He maintained the shadow cabinet was intended to monitor security and border issues as well as the military, as an opposition party is supposed to do, and there was no evidence to show otherwise.
Cheam Channy’s lawyer, Ket Khy, said that releasing his client on bail would not impact the court’s investigation and that it is dangerous to continue detaining him.
“My client has a heart disease,” Ket Khy said. “It is very dangerous to his life. The court should release him for treatment outside the prison.
“If the court later on finds my client is guilty of illegally recruiting a new army, he will voluntarily walk into the prison,” he added.
Both Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun denied ever having met each other before they were arrested and told the court they were innocent of any crime.
They accused police of threatening and beating them to get them to confess.
“I am innocent,” Sok Sam Oeun said. “They forced me to say what they told me. They illegally arrested me and detained me while the real culprits are at large.”
Born Samnang also alleged Tuol Kok district police Chief Hun Song tried to bribe him with money and sex.
“Hun Song usually came to me around 9 or 10 at night in prison,” Born Samnang told the court. “Every time he came he usually gave me money and a girl to sleep with inside the prison.”
When contacted Wednesday afternoon, Hun Song denied the charge. “If I have a lot of money, I would prefer to keep it for my wife and children,” he said. “I would not give it to them. If I gave money and girls to them in prison like that, I would not be a police officer.”
Supreme Court Judge Chiv Keng also dismissed the allegations during the bail hearing.
“Your claim is baseless,” Chiv Keng said. “You do not have evidence or witnesses. The court cannot trust you.”
The court recessed around 11:30 am so the judges could make their decision. But about half an hour later, Cheam Channy was escorted out of the courtroom by police and taken to a van where he was driven off.
He was followed shortly afterward by Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, the two men accused of assassinating Chea Vichea last year. Both men proclaimed their innocence before being taken to a police van and driven off as family members screamed and cried.
“This is an injustice,” said Nuon Kim Soeun, Born Samnang’s aunt. “Please help him.”
Cambodian Defenders Project Executive President Sok Sam Oeun, who is not related to the man accused of killing Chea Vichea, said he did not understand why the court delayed its decision.
“It is better for the court to make a decision right away,” he said. “If there is a delay, maybe the decision will be made after being mixed with other information. The judgment should have been made after the hearing.”
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay also questioned the reason for the delay.
“I think the judges should have made a decision straight away,” he said. “I think the reason they did not make a decision is because the prime minister is not in the country.”
He said that with the international community, specifically the European Union, watching the proceedings, the judges involved don’t want to make a mistake.
“From the political side, there has to be a green light from the prime minister,” he said.
But he said while the international pressure in relation to the Cheam Channy case makes it hopeful the opposition lawmaker will be released on bail, Son Chhay had little hope for the two men accused of killing Chea Vichea.