Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Supreme Court Hears NPP Official’s Bail Appeal, Fixes June 10 for Verdict 

Meu Senghor leaves the Supreme Court with his party advisor Rong Chhun on May 31, 2024. (CamboJA/Va Sopheanut)
Meu Senghor leaves the Supreme Court with his party advisor Rong Chhun on May 31, 2024. (CamboJA/Va Sopheanut)

On Friday morning, the Supreme Court heard the appeal of Meu Senghor, interim vice president of National Power Party’s Kampong Cham province division, who asked to be released on bail. He argued that placing him in pretrial detention was inconsistent with his charge and the law.

Kong Srim, president of the Trial Chamber, was on the panel with four other judges who heard the appeal. Following the submissions by both parties, Srim set June 10, 2024 to deliver their verdict.

Earlier, one of the judges reminded that Senghor had appealed to the Supreme Court to allow bail following Phnom Penh Appeal Court’s decision on May 8 to uphold the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s April 4 verdict.

Senghor was charged with public insult under Article 307 of the Criminal Code and incitement to discriminate under Articles 494 and 496 of the same law.

Public insult is defined as “any insulting expression, scorning terms or any other verbal abuses” that is not tantamount to slander. If found guilty, the person can be fined between 100,000 riel and 10 million riel. It does not carry a jail term.

After the judge gave his initial remarks, prosecutor Chum Samban urged the court to retain Senghor in prison, submitting that the Appeal Court had decided in accordance with the law to maintain public order.

However, the defendant denied the charge, saying that his detention was “unlawful and immediate” as he was preparing his people to stand for the council election at the time.

Senghor told the court that he and Mai Hongsreang, the plaintiff, had exchanged insults on social media and that the case was “not an incitement to discriminate” as charged by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

“Please render me the freedom [bail] to serve the people,” he appealed to the court, adding that, “I also suffer from a heart disease.”

His lawyer, Choung Choungy, informed the court that the facts of the case stated that Senghor and Hongsreang had “insulted each other”, and that insults “cannot lead to a pretrial detention”.

“Look at the facts […] it was an insult but [he was] charged with incitement which led to detention,” Chou Ngy said, adding that insults cannot be construed as incitement as it is an inappropriate accusation.

Following that, the defense lawyer asked the Supreme Court to release his client on bail, subject to conditions under the Article 223 of the Criminal Procedure Code.

“It is possible to set conditions to monitor [him] so that he respects them. If he does not comply, he can be detained,” Choungy said.

Senghor was arrested on March 15, 2024, following a complaint by Hongsreang on charges of “incitement to discriminate and public insult”.

Hongsreang, who was a former associate of Senghor when both were Candlelight Party members before he left to join the Cambodian People’s Party in May 2023, was absent from the morning trial.

He told CamboJA News via telephone that Senghor insulted him first, especially with regards to his daughter, which was why he decided to file the complaint.

He alleged that when he was with Candlelight Party, Senghor criticized his activities with an “intent to incite other members to discriminate against him”.

“He used to insult me, but I usually don’t care but it was unacceptable [when he] insulted my 11-year-old daughter,” Hongsreang said.

“For me, bail should not be allowed because criminals should not [live] among Cambodians,” he said.

Rong Chhun, an adviser to the National Power Party, who also attended the hearing, said if the court followed the law, Senghor would be released on bail due to the facts and the law on public insult as it is not an act that requires detention.

Chhun observed that it is often difficult to obtain justice for cases involving political activists, including opposition politicians, due to improper enforcement of the law. It is also related to political issues.

On Friday morning, the Supreme Court upheld Phnom Penh Court of Appeal’s guilty verdict on Thach Setha, former Candlelight Party vice president, for issuing fake checks in 2019, which Setha’s lawyer said was unjust to his client.

“The charges [Senghor’s] are linked to incitement, but there was nothing to incite. So, if the court follows the law professionally, he [Senghor] will be free [out on bail],” he said.