Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Seng Theary Hospitalized After Hunger Strike, Trial Postponed

Supporters of Seng Theary protest outside the Court of Appeal calling for her release from prison, December 13, 2023. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)
Supporters of Seng Theary protest outside the Court of Appeal calling for her release from prison, December 13, 2023. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

The Court of Appeal postponed the trial of prominent Cambodian American lawyer and human rights advocate Seng Theary after learning she had been hospitalized following a hunger strike. Her lawyer submitted a request to the court to delay her trial which was supposed to take place on Wednesday.

General Prison Department spokesperson Nouth Savna told CamboJA that Seng Theary had been on a hunger strike since December 6. On December 11, her health worsened and was admitted to the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital. 

“Her health is down because she did not eat. She only drank water with lemon,” he said. “We cannot force her to eat because she is exercising her right.” 

Theary’s lawyer, Sam Chamroeun, also confirmed with CamboJA that he sought the court’s permission to delay the trial because the timeframe offered to him to meet her before the case was too short. The prison department letter approving his request to meet his client there was only received on December 4, he said.

“The time [allocated] for me to see her was too short, so I asked for a postponement,” Chamroeun shared. “Theary’s case is different from other cases. Those cases don’t require a letter from the General Department of Prison and we are allowed to meet [with the clients] but the time [given to meet Theary] is too short.” 

According to him, he met Theary on December 9 at the prison to discuss updates on her case, however, he had known she was sick then, adding that he does not know her condition at the moment. 

Prison spokesperson Savna said currently, Theary has to ensure her health improves before she returns to court to continue her trial. 

In June 2022, Theary was convicted together with former members of the outlawed opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) for allegedly plotting and inciting people to overthrow the government. They were found guilty after campaigning for the return of exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy in 2019.

Soeung Senkarona, spokesperson for Adhoc, told CamboJA that Theary has the right to go on a hunger strike to demand justice and freedom for herself. 

However, going on a hunger strike will affect her health, which is why the relevant parties should monitor and find a solution.

“What we have observed is that she went on a hunger strike when she was in Preah Vihear prison and when she was moved to Prey Sar prison, she did it again until she fell sick, yet a solution does not exist for her,” he said. “We are very worried about her health if she does not end her strike.”

Meanwhile, he hopes that the relevant parties will expedite Theary’s case and accord her justice, by dropping the charges and releasing her.

On human rights day, Patrick Murphy, the US ambassador to Cambodia, expressed hope that there would be a positive change in Cambodia via the release of political prisoners and activists by the new government. 

“We hope that Kem Sokha will be free to contribute to the Kingdom’s future, for Theary to resume her civil society activities and for Chhim Sithar [Nagaworld union leader] to rejoin her fellow workers,” he said.