svay rieng city – Prison authorities allowed only three lawmakers from a delegation of Sam Rainsy Party officials to briefly meet with two jailed land protest villagers while police kept a close eye on the prison from a cordon set up along the road.
Out of a group of 23 SRP lawmakers seeking to meet with Meas Srey, 39, and Prum Chea, 41, Svay Rieng Provincial Court Director Korm Chhan told the opposition delegation that only three would be permitted into the jail. In a letter to the SRP on Monday, he said, “the compound is too small” and for security reasons the entire group would not be allowed in the prison.
Those meeting with the imprisoned villagers said they appeared to be in high spirits.
“They told me that they have a strong will and still demand their land from authorities and ask the court to release them,” SRP spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday, standing outside the prison’s walls.
Along with Mr Sovann, lawmaker Tioulong Saumura and SRP Secretary-General Ke Sovannaroth were allowed inside the jail for a 30-minute meeting.
Arrested Dec 23, Ms Srey and Mr Chea remain in pre-trial detention ahead of their Jan 27 court date. Both are accused of damaging border demarcation posts in Chantrea district’s Samraong commune along with SRP President Sam Rainsy and three other villagers on Oct 25.
Mr Rainsy, who is currently abroad, also faces a charge of inciting racial discrimination. The opposition party leader has stated that he will not attend his trial unless the government frees all prisoners being held for protesting land evictions and gives back the property lost at the border.
Outside the prison as the delegation arrived yesterday, a group of roughly 30 officers from provincial police, intervention police and prison guards blocked the road leading to the prison with wood and metal fences in two different places.
At the first makeshift barricade about 100 meters from the prison, an official with the intervention police, Prak Sophat, asked the delegation for a letter granting them permission to enter the prison. Only the three visiting officials were then allowed to pass beyond the barricades.
Police, some wearing riot helmets and carrying electric batons, also conducted cursory searches of the lawmakers’ vehicles.
Mr Sophat said senior officials ordered the police’s show of force.
Members of the SRP have started a campaign seeking a royal amnesty for Mr Rainsy though their efforts were dealt a partial blow this week when Prince Sisowath Thomico wrote that Retired King Norodom Sihanouk “can not intervene for His Excellency Sam Rainsy.”
Under the Constitution, only King Sihamoni has the right to grant amnesty and pardons. The party has also contacted King Sihamoni whose response was not known yesterday.