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Cambodian American activist Theary Seng transferred to remote prison

Authorities in Cambodia have transferred Cambodian American democracy activist Theary Seng to a remote prison, a move that her lawyer said will isolate her from her family and legal counsel.

Theary Seng was arrested on Tuesday while she protested a mass trial that convicted her and more than 50 other democracy advocates on charges related to their association with the banned opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP).

She began serving her six-year sentence for treason the same day at Prey Sar prison in the capital Phnom Penh. But prison authorities have confirmed to RFA that Theary Seng has since been transferred to Preah Vihear Prison in the country’s far north.

“We have foreseen risks in keeping her in Phnom Penh, and for the sake of ensuring her security and to maintain public order, we transferred her to a higher security prison,” Nuth Savna, spokesman for the General Prison Department, told RFA’s Khmer Service on Friday.

Theary Seng’s lawyer, Choung Chou Ngy, told RFA that the move could complicate an appeal, which would be reviewed by a court in Phnom Penh.  

“The prison didn’t tell me why they transferred her. I don’t know the reason. … The transfer affects my rights to defend her because I lose opportunity to see her. She has the right to appeal, so I need to see her to explain to her about the process and her right to appeal,” he said.

“If she decides to appeal, I will prepare a case for her,” Choung Chou Ngy said. “It is difficult for a lawyer to defend her while she is so far away and the court will have a problem because it has to transport her from Preah Vihear.”

Choung Chou Ngy said that he was unable to see his client while she was held at Prey Sar, which he said was a violation of her rights.

Marady Seng, Theary’s brother, told RFA that he was also unable to meet his sister while she was detained at the Phnom Penh prison. Officials cited COVID-19 restrictions as the reason, he said.

“Since June 14, we have no new information. I have been concerned since her arrest I don’t have any information about her health or whether she was harmed. This is not justice,” he said. “What the government has done is too much. I urge the government to release her immediately.”

Am Sam Ath of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights told RFA that Theary Seng’s detention is another example of Prime Minister Hun Sen pressuring human rights advocates.

“Putting her away from her family and friends will isolate her and impact her emotionally,” Am Sam Ath said.

He noted that the government has used similar tactics to isolate incarcerated other opposition politicians and activists. 

Theary Seng and the other convicted activists were all in some way connected to the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) before the country’s Supreme Court dissolved the party five years ago, a decision that paved the way for Hun Sen to tighten his grip on the country and squash criticism of his government. 

The treason charges against the activists stem from abortive efforts in 2019 to bring about the return to Cambodia of CNRP leader Sam Rainsy, who has been in exile in France to avoid what his supporters say are politicized charges against him. 

Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.