The Court of Appeal on Monday denied bail to four rights workers and an election official imprisoned in connection with a sex scandal surrounding deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha, upholding the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s decision last month.
The four employees of rights group Adhoc were charged and jailed alongside National Election Committee deputy secretary-general Ny Chakrya early last month for allegedly bribing Mr. Sokha’s mistress to deny the affair. A U.N. official, Sally Soen, was charged in absentia as an accomplice.
The charges, like the government’s investigation into the alleged affair for evidence of corruption and prostitution, are widely believed to be politically motivated.
Reporters were not allowed into the bail hearing at the Appeal Court on Monday.
Contacted afterward, Presiding Judge Khun Leang Meng said the bail requests were all denied but declined to explain why. Lawyers for the Adhoc employees also declined to comment.
Yi Soksan, a deputy head of monitoring for the organization, decried the day’s decision while leaving the courtroom. “I think that if the court were independent we would have justice,” he said.
Mr. Chakrya, a former Adhoc officer himself, said the decision was blatantly unfair.
“I will let the people consider it,” he said. “The people, the country and the international organizations understand.”
Mr. Chakrya’s lawyer, Sam Sokong, said the court gave five reasons for rejecting the bail requests: to keep the defendants in custody; to keep the defendants safe; to keep the defendants from conspiring to concoct false testimonies; because the investigation was not over; and because the alleged crimes carried prison terms of more than a year.
Mr. Sokong said he tried to convince the court that his client did not pose a flight risk, to no avail.
“We think the court’s decision was wrong,” he said. “We gave them enough reasons for release, but the court did not consider what we said.”
The lawyer said they would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court in the coming days.
Adhoc has denied the bribery claims, saying it paid Mr. Sokha’s alleged mistress a total of $204 to support her during her questioning by authorities and never suggested that she lie.
Outside the Appeal Court on Monday, police arrested and later released a woman protesting against the group’s arrest.
About 20 people had gathered in front of the court in the latest iteration of weekly “Black Monday” protests demanding the group’s release, named for the black shirts worn by participants.
Sar Sorn, an activist from Phnom Penh’s Borei Keila neighborhood, was arrested at about 9 a.m. after a brief scuffle with police, who also tore up the protesters’ banners.
City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said Ms. Sorn was arrested for blocking traffic outside the court compound.
“If they do something like observe the hearing, it’s not a problem,” he said. “But they came with banners and they did not listen to our advice. They tried to block the Appeal Court gate so that vehicles could not pass.”
The spokesman said Ms. Sorn was released after signing a contract promising not to protest again.
Pork Sophin, another demonstrator, said they were doing nothing wrong.
“We just came to demand the release of the human rights officers, but the police came to destroy our banners and arrest us,” she said.
Prince Sisowath Thomico, a member of the royal family aligned with the opposition who joined the protesters in a black shirt, said the ruling CPP’s use of the courts to attack rights groups was sure to backfire by driving more voters toward the opposition.
“I want to show my support for the Constitution and for Cambodian law,” he said. “In a country where there is no law, there is only power.”
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