Hun Sen critic 'fears deportation' from Thailand

Hun Sen critic 'fears deportation' from Thailand

Prime Minister Hun Sen addresses supporters during the local election campaign in Phnom Penh in June last year. (AFP Photo)
Prime Minister Hun Sen addresses supporters during the local election campaign in Phnom Penh in June last year. (AFP Photo)

A woman who fled Cambodia to avoid prosecution for throwing a shoe at a billboard of Prime Minister Hun Sen has been arrested in Thailand and is at imminent risk of deportation, according to a lawyer and human rights groups.

A Thai court found Sam Sokha, a Cambodian labour rights activist, guilty of overstaying her visa in early January, even though she holds UN recognition of her status as a refugee, her lawyer Koreeyor Manuchae told Al Jazeera

Sam Sokha was given a suspended sentence and a fine, but was being held at the Suan Phlu immigration dentention centre in Bangkok. Manuchae said the 38-year-old activist reported receiving a visit from Cambodian officials who pressured her to return.

"But deporting her to Cambodia is like sending her to her death," he said, adding that his client was "very worried". 

Sam Sokha's detention is the latest in Thailand's "long and chequered record of violating the human rights of refugees". said Olof Blomqvist, a spokesman for Amnesty International.

Thailand, which hosts more than 100,000 refugees, is not party to the international convention on refugees, he said, and treats any refugee living outside of designated camps on the Thai border with Myanmar as an undocumented immigrant.

Without legal status, refugees living in urban areas in and around Bangkok are often subject to arrest and deportation, according to rights groups. 

Sam Sokha has been living in Bangkok since last April. She fled Cambodia after police there launched an investigation into a video clip on Facebook, which shows her throwing a shoe at the image of Hun Sen on a billboard of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP). She throws a second shoe at the picture of Hun Sen's colleague, National Assembly President Heng Samrin.

"This person, when will he stop destroying the nation?" she is heard saying in the video, which was widely shared. In an interview with the Phnom Penh Post at the time, shesaid she posted the video because she was "hurt" by Hun Sen's leadership.

"My aunt's land was grabbed. And they arrested and jailed my brother and he even could not find an attorney."

Shortly afterward, prosecutors lifted charges of "insulting a public official" and "incitement" against her. The offences carry a three-year jail term.

The move against Sam Sokha came amid a sweeping crackdown on dissent in Cambodia. Opposition leader Kem Sokha was arrested and charged with "treason and espionage" later in September.

A Thai immigration official confirmed that Cambodian authorities were interested in Sam Sokha's case, but dismissed the claim that Cambodian officials had visited her.  

"There were requests from the country of origin," said the official, who did not want to be named as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

He declined to reveal the nature of the request, and said: "If we find they [asylum seekers] violate our laws, we have to follow our process, whether there is a request or not".  

He added: "We haven't got any date or confirmation of when Sam Sokha will be deported or if we will deport her at all."

A spokesman for the Cambodian foreign ministry told the Phnom Penh Post that he was not aware of any extradition requests.

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