Three defrocked ethnic Khmer Krom monks, who were imprisoned during a wave of arrests of activists and opposition figures late last year, were denied bail by the Court of Appeal on Friday as hundreds of their supporters rallied outside the court calling for their release.
Soeung Hai, 28, was detained on November 11 at a peaceful protest outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court against the arrest of seven female land activists from Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood. Along with three other protesters, he was sentenced the next day to a year in prison for obstructing public officials.
In a separate incident on November 12, Khit Vannak, 26, and Sang Kosal, 19, were arrested and charged with “criminal participation” for carrying bags full of flags and attempting to join villagers from Preah Vihear province who planned to march to the National Assembly and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house to call attention to their land dispute.
More than 200 people, including about 20 monks, on Friday protested on the street outside the appeal court, shouting that the detentions were “unjust” and that the trio were innocent, while local rights groups also condemned their continued detention.
Sam Sokunthea, a lawyer for Mr. Vannak and Mr. Kosal, said that the Court of Appeal had rejected her clients’ bail application on the basis that it was a criminal case and investigations were still ongoing.
“I think that my clients’ case is a misdemeanor, and there are many suspicious [elements] in this case,” she said.
“Based on the law, my clients should be released on bail.”
Ms. Sokunthea said there was no evidence to support the charges of criminal association, as the two men were only in possession of Cambodian and Buddhist flags at the time of their arrest.
“These are not weapons of criminal association,” she said.
In a separate hearing later on Friday, the appeal court also rejected Mr. Hai’s bail application.
His lawyer, Chin Lyda, said the appeal court had not granted Mr. Hai bail as the Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge had already closed his case, so he needed to be kept detained for his pending appeal.
Mr. Hai, who last year burned a Vietnamese flag outside that country’s embassy, denounced the court as a “Yuon puppet court,” using a term for Vietnamese people that can be derogatory in some contexts.
“This court was under pressure by the Yuon country,” he said.
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, said he also believed the trio were arrested in retaliation for the flag-burning incident.
“This is a political issue,” Mr. Sam Ath said.