Two “Friday Women” – the wives of former opposition activists detained at Trapaing Phlong prison in Tbong Khmum province – shaved their head immediately after the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal upheld the municipal court’s decision ordering their spouses and 13 other activists to serve the remainder of their 44-month jail terms.
Ouk Chanthy and Pov Saran sacrificed their hair at Preah Ang Dorngkeu Shrine, just across from the Royal Palace, where they lit incense and prayed for the Ministry of Interior to transfer their husbands and the 13 others to Prey Sar Prison in Phnom Penh as this would make their visit more convenient and affordable.
“Only god can help us. I am shaving my head to demand the return of my family because my husband has been detained unjustly for more than two years,” said Chanthy.
She alleged that her husband and most of the other detainees were beaten in Trapaing Phlong prison, which is why they could not come to hear the verdict at the Phnom Penh Appeal Court on September 13.
“I cannot accept the lower court or the higher court’s verdicts, as they are not independent. If they were, they would overturn the sentences and release our husbands,” she added.
According to Chanthy, only four activists attended the hearing on September 13.
Nuth Savana, spokesman for the interior ministry’s General Department of Prisons, has previously defended allegations of recent violence against political activists detained at Trapaing Phlong. He said the incident started with a dispute between prisoners and was not planned.
However, the families of the detained activists consider the detention of their husbands and fathers to be purely political.
Sok Eysan, spokesman for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), dismissed the allegations.
“There is no negotiation for their release. Doing so would violate the law unless the court rules in their favour. Chanthy should find a good lawyer to handle her husband’s case, but instead she shouted that this is a political matter. If her husband is not in the wrong, why was he arrested?”
At the September 13 Appeal Court hearing, defence lawyers for the former activists of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) sought an overturn of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s five-year imprisonment verdict, though only three years and eight months would be served with the remainder suspended.
Back on March 17, the municipal court sentenced 21 former CNRP leaders and activists to between five and 10 years in prison in connection with CNRP leader Sam Rainsy’s planned return on November 2019 to “apprehend” Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Of the 21 people, seven were sentenced to 10 years in prison on charges of “inciting to commit a crime, including inciting soldiers to disobey orders and conspiracy to plotting” against the elected government. Twelve people and a former interior ministry official were sentenced to five years in prison each for “conspiracy to plotting and incitement to cause serious social unrest”, but their verdicts are only to be applied for three years and eight months.
Chin Malin, spokesman for the Ministry of Justice, said the two women’s decision to shave their head was a legal protest – and a way to send a political message – but it was not a legal defence for their spouses.
He said their actions would not affect the court’s decision, suggesting that participation in the proceedings, legal defence and the provision of legal arguments and evidence for an acquittal are the only ways they could assist the accused.