Kandal provincial Judge In Bopha on Monday refused to release two men arrested during a protest last week against the introduction of tolls on National Route 4, saying their lawyer, appointed by local rights group Adhoc, failed to appear for questioning.
The men, Thorn Than and On Sam Ol, were arrested Jan 4 and charged with inciting disorder.
“I do not want to keep them [in jail],” In Bopha said. But, he said, “The lawyer did not come as he promised. He should have told me so I can prepare.”
The two were among a group of about 200 taxi drivers who protested on Jan 3 and Jan 4 against the AZ Investment Co Ltd’s move to charge fees on all four-wheeled vehicles traveling between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. During the protest, police beat one driver bloody with an electric baton.
In Bopha said he was considering dropping the charges against Thorn Than and On Sam Ol. But, he said, he needed to question them first, a procedure that required the presence of their lawyer.
“I am afraid that if the lawyer does not come and I question them, they will accuse me” of not allowing legal counsel to sit in, he said.
Adhoc’s spokesman Chan Soveth said Monday that the judge could make a decision on their release, regardless of whether a lawyer was present.
“I want the judge to use his independence. He can make his own decision. It is very fast to consider a case,” he said. “We want the judge to release them without any conditions.”
But he said Adhoc would send a lawyer to represent the two men soon.
AZ Investment introduced new road charges on Jan 3, requiring taxis to pay $1.40, mini-buses $2 and larger buses $2.50.
On Monday, AZ Investment representative Keo Setha said that the company has no plans to reduce the fees. Though the government’s Human Rights Committee agreed last week to intervene on the taxi drivers’ behalf, AZ Investment has yet to hear from the committee, Keo Setha said.