The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday morning granted bail to two of the 23 union activists and protesters jailed following the lethal suppression of garment worker strikes by military police on January 3.
Municipal court presiding Judge Leang Samnatt held an unscheduled hearing on Friday morning and decided to grant bail to two of the jailed protesters: garment workers Bou Sarith, 27, and Yon Chea, 17, who are being held at seperate jails in Kompong Cham province.
Judge Samnatt ordered the directors of both prisons to “release the accused…if they are not under detention orders for committing other offenses,” according to a copy of the court’s release warrant, which was signed by the judge.
The bail order did not specify when the two should be released, but Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, said he was told that the document granting bail had been sent to the General Department of Prisons.
According to Mr. Sam Ath, Mr. Sarith is incarcerated with 21 other protesters at Kompong Cham province’s Correctional Center 3 prison and Chea is being held at Kompong Cham provincial prison.
“It is a good sign and a great development that the Phnom Penh Municipal judge decided to grant bail for the two,” Mr. Sam Ath said.
“We hope the upcoming bail hearing, which is scheduled to be heard at the Appeal Court on Tuesday, will give the same result for the remaining 21,” he said.
The granting of bail was unexpected, and comes after the same court on January 21 refused bail to all 23 prisoners, who were swept up in a wave of arrests and beatings by the authorities during protests in Phnom Penh on January 2 and 3.
Mr. Sam Ath said the court’s reversal of the earlier decision to deny bail was a bit strange, but it was still a “good start.”
CC3 prison director Kea Sovanna said he had yet to receive the bail order from the Phnom Penh court, but he confirmed that a 17-year-old detainee was receiving medical treatment and X-rays in prison.
“Whenever I receive the court’s release warrant, I will send it to the Kompong Cham provincial court prosecutor for approval,” Mr. Sovanna said, declining to comment further.
In front of the Royal Palace on Friday morning, 23 monks from the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice, said prayers for the release of the 23 prisoners beside the Preah Ang Dongker temple.
Thida Khus, executive director of the training NGO Silaka who also participated in the gathering at Preah Ang Donkger, which included the release of 46 white balloons, said Friday’s Thangyi Sil celebration was a good opportunity to call on the spirits to direct the hands of judges to release the 23.
“We call on the spirits around the country that we believe in to render to our judges so that they give justice to the 23 and the rest of Cambodia,” Ms. Khus said.
(Additional reporting by Lauren Crothers)