Nine-month jail terms will not be served; bail to cover 1 million riel fines
Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday convicted five Thais, including ruling party lawmaker Panich Vikitsreth, of crossing into Cambodia illegally and of unauthorized entry into a military area, but immediately suspended the nine-month jail terms handed down.
Presiding Judge Suos Samath also ordered Mr Panich and the others—Kitchaponthorn Chusanasevi, Naruemol Chitwaratana, Samdin Lertbutr and Tainae Mungmajon—to each pay 1 million riel in fines, but allowed the $250 bail they posted to cover the cost.
The charges carried a maximum sentence of 18 months in jail and a $500 fine.
“The court believes there is enough evidence to prove the charges of illegal entry into Cambodia and trespassing into a military area,” Judge Samath said, citing video clips, reports from border police, and testimony from immigration officials as well as the Joint Border Commission.
During the four-hour trial, Mr Panich and the other defendants denied having entered Cambodia intentionally.
“I did not have any intention to enter Cambodia,” he said. “I was asked by Thai people to go to the [border] because the Thai people claimed that the land belongs to Thailand.”
“I saw the CPP party sign but I was not sure if that land belonged to Thailand or Cambodia,” he said.
The five, along with “yellow-shirt” activist Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipatanapaiboon, were arrested on Dec 29 about a kilometer inside Banteay Meanchey province.
According to court officials, all seven have acknowledged being inside Cambodia.
In a video clip recorded by Mr Tainae and played in court with Khmer subtitles, Mr Veera could be seen crossing the border.
“That land belonged to Thailand before, but Cambodia took it,” he said, before walking past the post.
Deputy prosecutor Sok Roeun welcomed the verdict and the sentence.
“The court decision is correct and follows the law,” he said. “After this verdict they can go back to their homeland.”
Ros Oun, one of two defense attorneys, also welcomed the decision, but said he had not yet discussed the outcome with his clients.
“After this verdict, my clients are free,” he said. “I will discuss with my clients whether we will appeal or not.”
The Court of Appeal on Tuesday granted bail to all of the remaining members of the seven Thais except for Mr Veera, who is still detained at Prey Sar Prison.
Mr Panich and Ms Naruemol were released the week before. The six have been living at the Thai Embassy since then.
Judge Samath said the court had moved up yesterday’s trial, originally scheduled for Feb 1, at the defense’s request.
He said Mr Veera and Ms Ratree, who have also been charged with spying, would be tried Feb 1 as originally scheduled. The felony charge carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison.
Immediately after the arrests, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said Mr Veera had led illegal crossings into the same area twice before—in September and July of last year—but did not penetrate as deeply into Cambodian territory as they did last month.
The arrests and charges have sparked protests both in Bangkok and along the Thai-Cambodian border by yellow shirts, but Thai media did not report any protests during yesterday’s trial.
Thai officials in Bangkok could not immediately be reached for comment.