K Thom Court Releases Pardoned Former SRP Chief

Kompong Thom Provincial Court yesterday freed a former SRP commune chief who had been jailed for illegal confinement, more than two weeks after King Norodom Sihamoni granted him a royal pardon.

Tuot Saran, the former chief of Baray district’s Pongro commune, was arrested and charged in March 2008 with transporting a former SRP commune councilor to Phnom Penh against her will to prevent her from joining the CPP. He was convicted and sentenced in March 2009 to a three-year jail term. King Sihamoni pardoned Mr Saran on Nov 26.

The SRP claimed this week that the court had not released him yet because it was demanding a payment of 2.5 million riel, about $600. Provincial court president Korn Sokal denied the claim.

Mr Sokal instead blamed the delay on bureaucracy, claiming he had only received an official copy of the King’s pardon yesterday.

“I just received an official letter and prepared the legal document to release [Mr Saran],” he said. “I freed him [Wednesday] morning around 10 am.”

Mr Sokal said a pardon typically needs at least two weeks to reach his court from the King’s Cabinet, after passing through the Council of Ministers and Ministry of Justice.

“The Minister of Justice signed on the letter on Dec 7 before it was sent to us via the post office. It’s reasonable for it to take a week via the post office,” he said.

SRP lawmaker Son Chhay, who traveled to Kompong Thom and met with Mr Sokal to help secure the former commune chief’s release, said yesterday that the government should have dealt more speedily with the case and that the delay invited the alleged demand for payment.

“It’s a bureaucratic problem, which is a weakness of government administration,” he said. “The bureaucracy is causing corruption.”

Mr Chhay also maintained the SRP’s original position yesterday that Mr Saran’s 2009 conviction was politically motivated.

Mr Saran and Tim Norn, the woman he was convicted of confining, could not be reached for comment.

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