Lawyers for the two students still imprisoned for participating in the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots will begin collecting signatures from government bodies today to execute a royal decree pardoning the students of their crimes, a representative of the students said Sunday.
Legal representatives for Ken Sara, 24, and Thorn Veasna, 19, will pay visits to the Interior Ministry, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and Prey Sar prison to expedite King Norodom Sihanouk’s pardon, though they have been slowed by threats of extortion, said Um Sam An, former president of the Students’ Movement for Democracy, of which Ken Sara is a major player.
“Officials at the court and ministry have told us we will have to pay at least $20 each to get them out. But we’re not going to pay,” Um Sam An said.
Municipal court Judge Tan Senarong, who presided over the hearing, denied that he or anyone in the court demanded payment for the convicts’ release.
A legal assistant with Legal Aid of Cambodia said Sunday that he had not heard of this particular case but acknowledged that extortion and bribery is a systemic problem in the judicial system.
“There are a lot of cases like this, especially in Phnom Penh. When the police catch the robber, the prosecutor and the court ask money from the robber,” he said. Those who are unwilling or unable to pay the informal service charge must reside longer in jail, he said.
King Sihanouk signed a decree Thursday ordering the release of the men, fulfilling a promise he made in March to pardon any youths convicted of involvement with the riots.
Article 27 of the Constitution states that the King has the right “to grant partial or complete amnesty.”
Ken Sara and Thorn Veasna were convicted last week of instigating racism, among other charges. They were arrested Feb 7 and are due for release from Prey Sar prison in November and October, respectively.
Tan Senarong said the King’s letter must be passed from the Justice Ministry to the prosecutor’s office to release the men.
Prosecutor Sok Roeun said Sunday that he had not received the King’s letter. He said he would comply with the monarch’s wishes to release the students.
(Additional reporting by Yun Samean)