Four Thais Released; Veera Remains in Prison

In a politically charged case, the Court of Appeal yesterday granted bail to four Thais accused of trespassing here, but rejected the bail request of the nationalist “yellow-shirt” activist Veera Somkwamkid.

The decision means that Mr Veera is the sole Thai still in Prey Sar Prison of the seven detained on Dec 29 near the border. Thai lawmaker Panich Vikitsreth and another member of the group were re­leased on bail for health reasons on Thursday.

“The Court of Appeal has bailed four of the five. Only Somkwamkid was not approved for bail,” prosecutor Ngeth Sarath said after yesterday’s roughly one-hour hearing, de­clining to comment on the magistrates’ reasoning.

Pech Vicheka, one of two de­fense lawyers hired by the Thai government, said the court re­leased the four Thais yesterday because “their case is a misdemeanor case.”

However, one of those released was Ratree Pipatanapaiboon, who with Mr Veera is charged with gathering information that affects national security, a felony punishable by five to 10 years in prison.

The pair also face charges along with the other five Thais of illegal border crossing and unauthorized entry into a military area, which together carry a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge Chaing Sinat said yesterday that she had finished the investigation of the case on Monday but did not know the name of the presiding judge. Judge Ke 0, the court’s deputy pre­sident, said he did not know if a trial had been scheduled.

As he was led from the courthouse after yesterday’s hearing, Mr Veera shouted that he would appeal the decision on his bail request and “fight until the end.” His lawyer, Mr Vicheka, confirmed Mr Veera would appeal to the Supreme Court.

Like the pair freed earlier, the four Thais were released on bail of $250, with the condition that they remain in Cambodia while under investigation. The group will live at the Thai Embassy with the already freed Mr Panich and Naruemol Chitwaratana, according to their two defense lawyers.

Mr Veera has taken an aggressive stance on disputed sections of the border, and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong said in December that he trespassed twice before in the Banteay Meanchey province border area where he and the other Thais were arrested.

The Thai Patriots Network, of which Mr Veera is a member, rallied in Bangkok yesterday and submitted a petition to Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej saying the government had not done enough to secure the release of the seven Thais, according to The Bangkok Post.

After the protest, TPN leader Chaiwat Sinsuwong was arrested with another TPN member on charges related to the yellow-shirt occupations of two Bangkok airports in 2008, according to The Bangkok Post, which cited unspecified reports.

Mr Chaiwat alleged during yesterday’s protest that the Thai and Cambodian governments had conspired to keep Mr Veera in jail, according to the Thai newspaper.

Both the Thai and Cambodian foreign ministries released statements last week emphasizing that the court case would not affect relations. Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong reiterated yesterday that the case was in the hands of the courts.

Mr Kuong also said a Cambodian inmate convicted of drug trafficking in Thailand had been transferred to the Cambodian penal system on Monday, the first such transfer under a 2009 agreement. He added that three more prisoners were expected to follow.

In December 2009, Prime Minister Hun Sen accused Thailand of reneging on the agreement after Cambodia transferred two Thai prisoners to Thailand but no Cambodian inmates were sent back.

Mr Kuong denied that the transfer had anything to do with the detentions of the seven Thais. Thai officials in Bangkok were unavailable.

(Additional reporting by Clancy McGilligan)

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