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Two Thais sentenced to prison for illegally crossing into Cambodia, what now?

03 February 2011

Originally published at Siam Voices on February 2, 2011

The Nation writes in today’s title story:

Veera Somkwamkid and Ratree Pipatanapaiboon were yesterday given lengthy prison sentences in Phnom Penh over charges of illegal entry and espionage in a case that could worsen ties between Thailand and Cambodia.

In the one-day trial, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Veera, who leads the Thai Patriots Network (TPN), and his assistant Ratree, guilty of espionage, illegal entry and trespassing in a military zone. These charges carry a maximum combined penalty of 11 years and six months.

Veera was sentenced to eight years behind bars and a fine of 1.8 million riel (about Bt18,000), while Ratree was given six years and fined 1.2 million riel (Bt12,000).

Tough prison terms“, The Nation, February 2, 2010

The two convicted were part of a group of seven Thais who got arrested by Cambodian authorities on December 29, 2010, claiming to investigate a disputed area at the Thai-Cambodian border. Among them was Democrat MP Panich Vikitsreth, who has received with four others suspended jail terms and have returned to Thailand already. See previous coverage here and here.

The Cambodian court have thrown the whole book at these two. The question is now if these two will have to serve the full term or will be eventually be granted a royal pardon (as seen in the 2009 case of a Thai national being accused of espionage), as two experts previously suggested on Voice of America:

“My opinion is that the first step must be through the court,” said Ros Chantraboth, a historian at the Royal Academy. “After the court’s prosecution, based on a suggestion of friendship for both countries, [Prime Minister] Hun Sen will request from [King Norodom Sihamoni] their amnesty and release.

Sok Touch, rector of Khemarak University, said first the judicial system must be allowed to work before diplomatic negotiations. “Cambodia should show its willingness to use the court system perfectly, and after that open political negotiation,” he said. “As we know, the monarch has the privilege of giving pardons.”

Analysts See Royal Pardon for Arrested Thais“, VOANews.com, January 12, 2011

Veera is a known activist and the leader of the nationalistic Thai Patriots Network, a group that is at least affiliated with the  PAD, which are at the moment still camping out and protesting in Bangkok for a over a week now, dissatisfied with the Thai governments handling of the border issue. Speaking of which…

PAD spokesman Parnthep Puapongphan, speaking at the protest site outside Government House, said the government had never supplied any information that could help Veera and Ratree in court. (…)

Suthorn Rakrong, coordinator of the TPN (…) also said that leaders of the group would meet this morning to come up with a statement rejecting the Cambodian court’s verdict.

Tough prison terms“, The Nation, February 2, 2010

This could be the reigniting spark for the prolonging yellow shirts’ protests, now that they have one more reason to blame the government. It could be interesting to see what will happen today on the protests’ stage.

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