A defrocked monk who was handed a one-year jail sentence for obstructing officials during a wave of arrests of activists and opposition figures in Phnom Penh last year was on Wednesday questioned over an additional charge of “joining a criminal association,” a human rights monitor said.
Soeung Hai, 28, has been held at Prey Sar prison since he was sentenced on November 12—the day after he took part in a protest in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court against the arrest of seven anti-eviction activists from the Boeng Kak neighborhood.
Two other monks were charged the next day with “criminal participation” for carrying bags of flags to a protest, and Mr. Hai was called to court Wednesday for questioning over accusations that he provided the flagpoles.
“I was summoned for questioning regarding joining a criminal association,” Mr. Hai shouted to a reporter while leaving the courtroom in the morning, before being pushed out of sight by police.
Am Sam Ath, senior technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, said Mr. Hai was charged with joining a criminal association in November, shortly after the other two monks named him as the provider of the flagpoles, but that the charge against him was only publicly confirmed Wednesday.
Besides his charges of obstructing public officials, Mr. Hai was also charged last year with illegally wearing monks’ robes and possessing a monk ID card. Mr. Sam Ath said Licadho represented Mr. Hai on both occasions and would likely provide a lawyer for him for this charge.
“This time, the third [charge] is joining a criminal association,” Mr. Sam Ath said. “We will meet him to consider providing a lawyer for him because this is a new offense and an additional charge.”
“We may ask the lawyer who defended him in the two past cases to defend him in this third case too.”
Mr. Hai, who is ethnic Khmer Krom, earlier last year burned a Vietnamese flag during a protest outside the country’s embassy in Phnom Penh and has characterized Cambodia’s judiciary as “puppets” of Vietnam.