Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday added an espionage charge against detained “yellow-shirt” activist Veera Somkwamkid and another member of the seven Thais arrested Dec 29 by Cambodian authorities on suspicion of trespassing, a court official said late yesterday.
Mr Veera and the other Thais, who include Thai lawmaker Panich Vikitsreth, are detained at Prey Sar Prison, charged with illegal border crossing and unauthorized entry into a military area.
“We have an additional charge for two persons,” deputy prosecutor Sok Roeun said, identifying the charged persons as Mr Veera and Ratree Taiputana Taiboon.
“We have charged them with attempt to gather information that affects national defense,” Mr Roeun said. The charge is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Mr Roeun said the additional charge was based on “new evidence that the authorities gathered” and added that a trial date had yet to be set.
The previous charges carried a maximum combined sentence of 18 months in prison, fines of up to $500, or both.
Pech Vicheka, one of two defense lawyers hired by the Thai government, said late yesterday that he was unaware of the additional charges, and fellow defense lawyer Ros Oun could not be reached for comment.
Earlier in the day, Mr Vicheka said that he and Mr Oun had submitted bail requests yesterday for the seven detained Thais, who have already been questioned twice.
“We both submitted bail requests for all seven detainees,” Mr Vicheka said.
Thai officials were not immediately available.
In a two-hour speech in Phnom Penh yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen accused one of the detained Thais of sending information abroad via Mr Hun Sen’s own telephone number, although he did not elaborate.
“That was my phone number, which was used by a prisoner in Prey Sar,” he said, adding that unspecified information had been “sent abroad.”
Also in the speech, the premier reiterated that no one could interfere in the court case.
“I would like to note briefly that this is the court’s authority. Nobody can interfere,” Mr Hun Sen said.
“Do not make any comment leading to an effect on court decisions because the court is independent.”
Mr Hun Sen specifically mentioned his former adviser, the fugitive ex-Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who has offered to mediate in talks for the release of the seven Thais.
“Making rumors that [Mr] Thaksin wants to intervene, I would like to say it is impossible…. Even if from the United Nations, it is still impossible,” Mr Hun Sen said.
The Thai Patriots Network yesterday submitted a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asking the UN to help the detainees, the Thai news organization MCOT said on its website.
Cambodian officials have repeatedly said that the court case would follow normal procedure, while Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya has urged speed but said Thailand would respect the court.
The new charge yesterday followed the arrival Sunday of a small group of yellow shirts who said that they had come to provide legal aid to the detained Thais.
The group also claimed the seven Thais were arrested on “occupied” Thai soil.
Relatives visited the detained Thais yesterday for a second time.
(Additional reporting by Clancy McGilligan)