Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Seng Theary secretly transferred to Preah Vihear prison

A motorcyclist drives past Preah Vihear provincial prison on December 15, 2021. CamboJA/ Vann Vichar
A motorcyclist drives past Preah Vihear provincial prison on December 15, 2021. CamboJA/ Vann Vichar

Prominent Cambodian American lawyer and human rights advocate Seng Theary has been quietly transferred from prison in Phnom Penh to a facility in the far northern province of Preah Vihear, her lawyer said Friday.

Ms. Theary was sent to Prey Sar Prison in the capital on Tuesday after the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced her to six years in jail, along with dozens of former members of the outlawed opposition CNRP party. They were all found guilty of incitement and plotting to overthrow the government in 2019 for supporting the return of exiled opposition figure Sam Rainsy.

On Friday afternoon, Ms. Theary’s defense lawyer Choung Choungy went to visit his client at Prey Sar Prison but was surprised to be told by

prison guards that she had been moved to Preah Vihear provincial prison on Wednesday.

“It’s the first time I’ve heard of something like this,” Mr. Choungy said.

“Now how can I meet her for legal consultations to prepare for her appeal?”

The General Department of Prisons spokesman, Nuth Savna, confirmed to CamboJA that Ms. Theary had been transferred to Preah Vihear on Wednesday, citing security concerns and saying Ms. Theary had previously staged theatrical protests in public.

“The reason is [concerning] public security,” he said. “If we keep her at Correctional Center II [Prey Sar prison], they (her supporters) will come to disturb the prison, and how will my officers work?” Mr. Savna said.

When asked whether he wasn’t concerned that her supporters would also protest in Preah Vihear province, he replied: “We will see…we can’t avoid that because our country has freedom of movement and people have the right to hold demonstrations but they need to follow the law.”

Police arrest Seng Theary in front of Phnom Penh Municipal Court after judge sentenced her to six years in jail. Photo taken on June 14, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
Police arrest Seng Theary in front of Phnom Penh Municipal Court after judge sentenced her to six years in jail. Photo taken on June 14, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Ny Sokha, president of rights group Adhoc, said it was rare for a defendant to be transferred from a regional prison to a prison in the provinces.

He said the real reason she’d been moved was because authorities were afraid.

“It’s to break her spirit,” he added.

Theary’s conviction has been condemned by international organizations such as Human Rights Watch as politically motivated and evidence of the deterioration of human rights and democracy in Cambodia.

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