Judge Refuses to Release Jailed Taxi Drivers

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.




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