Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday released on bail Thai lawmaker Panich Vikitsreth and a second member of the seven Thais detained near the border on Dec 29 on suspicion of trespassing, officials said.
The seven Thais have each been charged with illegal border crossing and unauthorized entry into a military area, while “yellow-shirt” leader Veera Somkwamkid and his secretary, Ratree Pipatanapaiboon, have also been charged with espionage.
Mr Panich and Naruemol Chitwaratana were freed yesterday after each depositing about $250 bail and agreeing to stay in Cambodia while under investigation, said defense lawyer Ros Oun, one of two attorneys hired by the Thai government. The pair was escorted from prison by Thai Embassy officials, he said.
“They have been allowed to stay outside the prison, but the court prohibited traveling outside Cambodia until the case is finished,” Mr Oun said.
Ms Naruemol has been identified by Thai media as a member of the People’s Network Against Corruption, of which Mr Veera is secretary-general.
All seven Thais have been questioned twice on the trespassing charges, which carry a maximum combined prison sentence of 18 months. Mr Veera and Ms Ratree were questioned separately on Wednesday on the espionage charges, which carry a five to 10 year prison sentence.
Thani Thongphakdi, spokesman for the Thai Foreign Ministry, said by telephone yesterday that his ministry hoped to secure the release on bail of the other five Thais, who are in detention at Prey Sar Prison.
“We welcome the granting of bail to the two, and we remain hopeful that bail will also be granted to others,” Mr Thani said. “It’s for the court to decide, and we respect the court decision.”
Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva called Mr Panich after he was freed yesterday, according to the Thai government’s National News Bureau of Thailand.
Few defendants are released on bail by Cambodian courts, although it is provided for by law, members of a rights group and a legal aid NGO said yesterday.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said that if the alleged crime is “small” and there is a suitable guarantee of the defendant’s presence at trial, the court has no reason to deny a bail request. However, he said most defendants lack lawyers to make such a request at the start of the process.
Independent analyst Chea Vannath called the release on bail of the two suspects a “civilized gesture” that could “ease tension” between Thailand and Cambodia.
Officials from Thailand and Cambodia have said the court case would not affect relations. Koy Kuong, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said yesterday that the granting of bail had nothing to do with pressure from the Thai government or yellow shirts.
About 200 yellow shirts converged yesterday about a kilometer from the Banteay Meanchey province border crossing at Poipet, which remained open, according to provincial governor Ung Oeun. Thai nationalists had reportedly planned to close the checkpoint in an attempt to press for the release of all seven Thais.
“There were around 200 yellow-shirt protesters, most of whom were from Bangkok,” Mr Oeun said, adding that they had been blocked from approaching the checkpoint by Thai authorities. “The checkpoint was operating as normal.”
Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya said yesterday that he would meet with his Cambodian counterpart, Hor Namhong, at an Asean gathering of foreign ministers in Indonesia from Jan 15 to 17, according to MCOT online news, a Thai website.