After 427 days behind bars, the Adhoc 5 have been enjoying their first weekend of liberty after being released from prison on bail on Thursday night. But their incarceration has left its mark, both physically and mentally, on the current and former human rights workers.
“Now my brain is very dark. My thoughts do not work,” Ny Sokha said on Sunday.
Mr. Sokha, 51, Adhoc’s head of monitoring, and his fellow four defendants had been held in provisional detention for more than a year when they were released in a surprise move by Investigating Judge Theam Chan Piseth.
The five are still facing a trial on a date yet to be set.
Mr. Sokha, his deputies Nay Vanda, 42, Yi Soksan, 54, and senior investigator Lim Mony, 58, are accused of bribing the alleged mistress of then-deputy CNRP leader Kem Sokha to deny an affair.
Ny Chakrya, 46, a former Adhoc employee who had since moved to the National Election Committee (NEC), is charged with being an accomplice.
The case is widely seen as politically motivated and the lengthy provisional detention of the group has been criticized by numerous local civil society bodies and international organizations, including the U.N. and E.U.
Adjusting to life outside prison, Mr. Sokha said on Sunday that meeting his mother, relatives and friends had consoled him somewhat. The father of five spent the day traveling to a pagoda in Kampot province’s Chhuk district to honor the spirit that his wife had prayed to for his release.
He also stopped at Kem Ley’s tomb in Takeo province’s Tram Kak district. Mr. Sokha was friends with Kem Ley, who was murdered last July in what some observers have called a government-sponsored hit.
Mr. Sokha was behind bars during the political analyst’s funeral, and hadn’t had an opportunity to tell his friend goodbye.
Mr. Sokha, who had collapsed in a prison bathroom during his detention, said that his health was weak, and he planned to go to the hospital for a checkup later this week.
Meanwhile, Mr. Vanda’s wife, Pheav Mey, said her husband was still very sick and could not sit upright for very long. He has stayed home since his release, suffering from high blood pressure and high cholesterol, she said.
“He is feeling better than when I was visiting him in the prison, seeing only walls around him,” she said.
Only the day before he was released, more than 50 local and international civil society groups, including Amnesty International, condemned what they alleged was the denial of medical care to the detainees. In a statement on Wednesday, they claimed that three of them, including Mr. Vanda, had experienced a severe decline in health during their imprisonment in Prey Sar.
The timing of the bail was unusual, as Investigating Judge Chan Piseth had in April extended the five’s detention for another six months saying that more time was needed to interview witnesses. The detainees said they had been expecting the Supreme Court to announce a decision on their appeal for bail on July 5, when the judge instead issued orders for their release without warning.
On Thursday, municipal court director Taing Sunlay said the judge’s decision was based on the fact that he had finished his investigation and some of the Adhoc 5 were in poor health.
“Since the investigation was bogus from the start, with very few witnesses called and little action taken, there’s no doubt a political decision drove the timing” of their release, Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), said on Sunday in an email.
“The CPP likely decided that they had achieved the intimidation effect they wanted, and continuing to hold the group risked one of them falling seriously ill in prison…. I now expect the CPP will hold this trial over the head of both the five and ADHOC as an organization to try to restrain their human rights reporting going into next year’s national elections.”
CPP spokesman Sok Eysan denied that the ruling party had any hand in the timing of the group’s bail.
“The court has done its work in accordance with its procedure. They are released on bail because the investigation concluded,” Mr. Eysan said. “No one cares about HRW. The government has no right to interfere.”
With no trial date set and the case looming over their heads, several of the five said on Sunday they would continue their work.
Mr. Chakrya, deputy secretary-general of the NEC, said he would head to the NEC offices today as he was not involved in any crimes. And Mr. Sokha called on the court to drop the charges against the five, noting that the group had important work to do outside prison.
“I will continue my work as a human rights worker, because our society has not yet fully respected human rights,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Brendan O’Byrne)