Almost five months after Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered the rearrest of 66 suspects he said had been released by corrupt court officials, the 36 that were rearrested are still in jail.
Those in custody are mostly teenagers, court officials say, including one who is 14 years old. Most are accused of being accomplices, rather than the central figures in criminal cases. Police said recently the other 30 suspects have fled, and are still being sought.
Under Cambodian law, suspects cannot be held for more than six months without trial, which means those in custody must be either tried or released by the end of this month.
That is, of course, if the government wants to obey the law. But critics say it is already clear that the prime minister doesn’t care about that, and that court officials are afraid to intervene.
Thun Saray, director of the local rights group Adhoc, said the rearrest order “made judges and prosecutors have less freedom to work, because they are scared of Hun Sen.’’
Hun Sen ordered the rearrests in December, saying the 66 suspects had bribed court officials to drop the charges against them. The idea was that police would interview those rearrested to determine which court officials had taken bribes.
Since then, two municipal court officials have been fired for corruption. But human rights workers such as Thun Saray say firing is not enough punishment for them and that the prime minister’s actions were illegal to begin with.
“It’s no justice that court officials who were found guilty ended up [only] being fired,’’ while people accused of crimes but never tried have been jailed for months, Thun Saray said.
He indicated the accused court officials should be judged in court for allowing money, rather than legal principles, to decide the fate of suspects.
Om Yentieng, senior adviser to the prime minister, said such claims that the judges and prosecutors are scared to act are nonsense.
The courts are independent, he said, and those who claim they are powerless to act either have “bad intentions’’ toward the government or don’t understand how to do their jobs.
But Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, says his organization represents 16 of those who are being held, and his lawyers are hearing a slew of excuses.
“For some, we have applied for bail, but the judges have denied bail based on many reasons,’’ Sok Sam Oeun said. “One judge says he can’t grant bail because the executive [branch] has ordered the rearrest.
“Another judge says he hasn’t got the dossiers. Still another says the negotiations aren’t in his hands, but in the hands of the investigating commission of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy.’’
And when his lawyers contact the commission, he says, “they say they are not yet done reviewing the dossiers.’’
Municipal and Supreme Court officials, who asked not to be named, said they are indeed afraid of government leaders but that the matter is now in the hands of the upper courts and the Ministry of Justice.
“We want to resolve this issue fast…otherwise we can be considered [as] abusing [the] human rights of those rearrested,” one municipal court judge said.
Suy Nou, secretary of state for the Ministry of Justice, would not say when the remaining prisoners might come to trial.
Suy Nou said the rearrests were necessary to ensure security.
“We understand that justice must be ensured for everyone, including criminals,’’ he said.