Government Seeks Rearrests Of 270 Suspects

Seeking to overturn the rulings of court authorities na­tionwide, the government has asked the na­tion’s judicial disciplinary body to ensure the rearrests of 270 suspects who have been released by the courts.

In a letter dated Friday, the Coun­cil of Ministers instructed Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana and Supreme Court Director Dith Munty, both members of the Su­preme Council of the Magis­tracy, to use the council’s disciplinary panel to reopen cases and obtain the rearrests of 270 criminal suspects released by the courts.

The letter, signed by Secretary of State for the council Seng Lim Neou, cited provisions in the newly enacted penal procedures code that empowers investigating judges to issue arrest warrants and allow prosecutors to reopen criminal cases that have already been closed.

“The release of 270 people in cri­minal cases is a target that the disciplinary council needs to examine and investigate to take measures for charging and rearrests,” the Council of Ministers’ letter states.

The Council of Minister’s letter cited the example of the Bat­tambang Provincial Court.

“In the case of Battambang Provincial Court, where a number of provisional detainees have been held more than twice, push the disciplinary council to investigate be­cause there are already too many complaints and [court officers] must be fined if there was mis­handling,” the letter reads, adding that authorities should see to it that the “proper action” is taken.

Council of Ministers spokes­man Phay Siphan said yesterday that he was unfamiliar with Mr Neou’s letter but that the government had a duty to see that rules are followed.

“The government does have the power to consult with prosecutors,” he said. “From my understanding, the government has a responsibility for public order and security.”

The call for rearrests follows the government’s decision this month to allow police and the Justice Ministry to review the decisions taken in cases that judges are suspected of mishandling.

Battambang Deputy Provincial Prosecutor Sar Yusthavirak said yesterday that he was unfamiliar with the order to reopen criminal cases handled by his court.

However, he said that between July and August, an inspection panel assigned by Mr Munty and Supreme Court Prosecutor-General Chea Leang had assessed the prevalence of releases in cases where the suspect had been detained more than twice.

Government efforts to prosecute suspected judicial malfeasance have been episodic.

With only mixed results, Prime Minister Hun Sen in March of 2004 announced what became a year of “Iron Fist” disciplinary measures and prosecutions of court officers suspected of taking bribes to end criminal proceedings. In an earlier crackdown on alleged wrongdoing by judicial officials, orders were issued in late 1999 for the rearrests of 195 suspects who were improperly released by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

Under the 2007 penal procedures code, anyone is entitled to carry out an arrest in the case of flagrant felonies or misdemeanors. However arrest warrants, provisional detentions and criminal charges may only be decided by judges, who are at least nominally independent.

Attorney Kao Soupha said yesterday that the procedures cited in the Council of Ministers letter do not allow for rearrests on government order.

“The order for the rearrest of 270 is quite wrong under the law because they have been released by a sovereign decision,” he said.

    (Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)


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