The Cambodia Human Rights Action Committee denounced the Supreme Court’s decision Friday to deny opposition lawmaker Cheam Channy bail in a statement released on Friday evening.
CHRAC, a coalition of 18 NGOs and rights organizations, said it was “deeply regretful” of the decision and claimed the court misinterpreted Cambodian law, the statement read. The group also deplored the continued detention of Sok Sam Oeun and Born Samnang, who are accused of killing union leader Chea Vichea.
The two, who claim they have been framed, have been detained for over 18 months. The law states that suspects should be held no longer than six months in pretrial detention.
“The Supreme Court’s decision…[that the alleged] culprits cannot be released on bail is inappropriate because there is no article stating that [criminal suspects] cannot be released on bail,” the statement reads.
The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that none of the three suspects could be released because doing so would harm continuing investigations and, in Cheam Channy’s case, because he might flee the country.
Opposition parliamentarians Sam Rainsy and Chea Poch fled the country shortly after being stripped of their parliamentary immunity on Feb 3.
The CHRAC statement said that according to the Constitution, the benefit of the doubt must rest with the accused, implying that the court could not be sure that Cheam Channy would flee.
Lao Mong Hay, a legal expert at the Center for Social Development, said Cheam Channy’s arrest, detention and prosecution have no basis because the opposition lawmaker was initially arrested by military police and charged in Military Court even though he is not a military officer.
Cheam Channy was initially charged in Military Court because he was accused of forming an “illegal armed force.”
Both the court and his lawyers, however, agree that his “shadow cabinet,” which was set up to monitor military activities, never acquired any weapons.
“Military Court should have no jurisdiction because he is not a military man,” Lao Mong Hay said.
But he disagreed with CHRAC’s statement.
While the trial in general may be flawed, he said, the court made the right decision on the specific issue of whether to release the opposition lawmaker on bail.
“To get a temporary release, you need to prove that he would not abscond, and that’s very difficult because two of the three accused have already left the country,” he said. “It would have been difficult for the judges to have decided otherwise.”
But Kem Sokha, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said that most people were missing an obvious point about the trial—namely, that the judiciary is apparently not acting independently.
“The court’s decision is political,” he said, questioning why the court waited two days—until Prime Minister Hun Sen returned from China—to make a decision.
“The prime minister is not here, they cannot decide,” he said. “That’s what I think, but I am not sure.”