Doubt Cast Over Vorn Pao’s Presence at Hearing

The Court of Appeal is to hold a bail hearing Monday for Vorn Pao, a rights worker who has been detained in a maximum-security prison in Kompong Cham province since January 3, a court official said Friday.

“I have summoned Mr. Pao and his lawyers to attend Monday’s bail hearing,” Appeal Court Judge Seng Sivutha said Friday. “But I am not sure whether or not Mr. Pao can attend the bail hearing, because it involves the police and prison officials and whether or not they can transport him to attend the hearing in Phnom Penh.”

Separately, a prison official said that while he had received notice of the hearing, he was not sure he would be able to transport the ailing detainee to the court.

Mr. Pao, the president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association, was first denied bail by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and then by the Court of Appeal in February for taking part in a minimum-wage demonstration that was violently broken up by the authorities. He is being detained alongside 20 other activists and workers. His lawyers are appealing these denials of bail.

Speaking by telephone, Kea Sovanna, director of CC3, the maximum security prison, confirmed that he received on Friday the court warrant, which orders him to ensure that Mr. Pao is transported to the Court of Appeal in Phnom Penh for Monday’s bail hearing.

“But I cannot confirm whether or not I can transport him there,” Mr. Sovanna said. “Let’s wait and see, because my vehicle is very old. If it works well, I will transport him. If my old vehicle is broken, there are no other means to take him there.”

The issue of prisoners not making it to their hearings has been well documented. A report issued last year by Licadho, a rights group, said that in 2011 more than 90 percent of inmates in 22 of the country’s 26 prisons were being denied transport to the appeal court in Phnom Penh because officials could not cover petrol costs.

Mr. Pao’s lawyer Sam Sokong said that his client has legal rights to “fully participate in the appeal hearing.”

“I am very positive that my client will be granted bail, because we will show all concrete evidence and documents to prove that he is totally eligible for bail,” Mr. Sokong said. “If my client remains in prison, his life will be at risk, because his health is not stable.”

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