Global rights group Human Rights Watch this evening said that Sam Sokha, who is wanted for throwing a shoe at a ruling party billboard last year, was handed over to Cambodia today by Thai authorities, a little over a month after she was arrested and convicted in Thailand for overstaying her visa.
The rights group’s deputy director for Asia, Phil Robertson, said contacts with local Thai authorities had confirmed that Sokha, who is recognised by the United Nations as a refugee, had been sent back to Cambodia this evening.
“Forcing refugee Sam Sokha back to Cambodia is an extremely serious and absolutely blatant human rights violation by Thailand’s military dictatorship apparently seeking to buy favors from Hun Sen,” he said via email.
He added that the international community should make Thailand pay a “serious price” for its "outrageous conduct" in deporting the Cambodian national.
Sam Rithy, Sokha’s former husband, said he had not heard of the deportation but feared for Sokha's life if she was brought back to Cambodia. “If the Thai authorities arrest and send her back, I am very concerned about her safety,” he said.
Sokha, a Kampong Speu native, posted a video on Facebook last April of her throwing her sandal twice at a ruling party billboard in Preah Sihanouk province. The first throw was aimed at an image of Prime Minister Hun Sen, and the second at a photograph of National Assembly President Heng Samrin.
She was charged in absentia by the Kampong Speu Provincial Court for “incitement to discriminate” and insulting a public official, crimes carrying a combined sentence of over three years.
Sokha fled to Thailand where she was arrested in early January and convicted for overstaying her visa. Until today, she was at the Suan Phlu Immigration Detention Centre in Bangkok, where Amnesty International reported that she was visited by Cambodian government officials to “pressure” her to return home.
National Police spokesman Kith Chantharith said he was unaware of the deportation last night, and Foreign Affairs spokesman Chum Sounry, as well as Cambodian Embassy officials in Thailand, could not be reached.