Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday sentenced Thai “yellow shirt” Veera Somkwamkid to eight years in prison after convicting him of illegally crossing into Cambodia, entering a military area without authorization and espionage.
After a hearing of almost 10 hours, the court also sentenced Ratree Pipatanapaiboon, Mr Veera’s assistant, to six years in jail.
Presiding Judge Sous Samath also fined Ms Ratree and Mr Veera, a member of the nationalist Thai Patriots Network, $300 and $450, respectively.
“Phnom Penh Court found that they are guilty of entering Cambodia illegally, had ill will to enter a military area and attempted to gather military information that harms national defense,” Judge Samath said.
In court, prosecutors produced a “spy” camera about the size of a thumb that they claimed Ms Ratree attempted to hide when the pair was arrested in Banteay Meanchey province on Dec 29, along with five other Thais.
Video clips allegedly taken with the camera, shown in court with Khmer subtitles, appeared to show the group standing by landmarks that military witnesses later testified lie inside the Cambodian base.
In another clip, Mr Veera is seen pointing to a tree and explaining to the group with him that Cambodian soldiers detained him and five others last August, also for allegedly entering the country illegally.
On that occasion, Cambodia released the group after about five hours under the condition that they would never return without permission.
Deputy prosecutor Sok Roeun also presented Mr Veera’s personal diary, in which he appeared to have recorded numerous past encroachments along the border, including one occasion last year to take photographs of a military warehouse.
Despite the evidence, Mr Veera insisted that he was never in Cambodia.
“I believe in my heart that I was in Thai territory and I would like the court to reinvestigate this and go to the area,” he said, insisting that the videos they shot were only meant to prove that Cambodia had encroached on Thai territory.
Mr Veera attempted to enter Google Maps of the area to prove his claim. But Judge Samath refused, because he said the maps were not official documents recognized by either country.
Ms Ratree in turn insisted that she had no intention of spying.
“I took the videos as a tourist and to keep for a souvenir,” she said.
While leaving the court for Pray Sar Prison, Mr Veera remained as defiant as ever.
“I cannot accept this and will appeal,” he shouted in Thai, according to a court interpreter.
Both his lawyers said they would ask for a reinvestigation.
Mr Veera and six other Thais were arrested Dec 29 about a kilometer inside Banteay Meanchey province.
Five of them, including ruling party lawmaker Panich Vikitsreth, were convicted of crossing into Cambodia illegally and entering a military area without permission on Jan 21. All five were sentenced to nine months in jail but had their prison terms immediately suspended, clearing the way for their return to Thailand the next day.
As for Mr Veera and Ms Ratree, there may also the chance of a pardon.
In December 2009, when Cambodian courts sentenced Siwarak Chotipong, a Thai national, to seven years in jail for espionage, King Norodom Sihamoni pardoned him within the same week at Prime Minister Hun Sen’s request.