Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Thailand on the defensive after deporting Cambodian refugee

Feb 15. 2018
Sam Sokha
Sam Sokha
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By SUPALAK GANJANAKHUNDEE
THE NATION

THE THAI Foreign Ministry said yesterday that the deportation of Cambodia national Sam Sokha, a UN-recognised refugee, for prosecution in her home country would not endanger her as relevant officials had considered her case carefully.

Sokha, who was wanted in connection with throwing a shoe at a ruling party billboard last year, was handed over to Cambodia on February 8 after a Thai court convicted her last month of overstaying her visa. 

She is now being detained in Kampong Speu province and may faced two or more years in jail if found guilty of insulting political figures. 

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said the deportation was a clear violation of customary international law, notably the principle of non-refoulement that prohibits sending people back to places where their lives and freedoms could be in danger. 

The Thai Foreign Ministry said the deportation was conducted in accordance with Thai immigration law and in the context of collaboration between police of the two countries. 

While Thailand gave importance to the principle of non-refoulement, relevant agencies had carefully considered that the deportation would not send Sokha into danger, according to ministry spokeswoman Busadee Santipitaks. 

The UN refugee agency stated it was alarmed at the deportation since Sokha’s refugee status was already confirmed and she had a well-founded fear of persecution if she returned to Cambodia.

A Kampong Speu province native, Sokha posted a video clip on Facebook last April of her throwing her sandal twice at a Cambodian People’s Party billboard in Preah Sihanouk province, 200 kilometres southwest of Phnom Penh. The first throw was aimed at the image of Prime Minister Hun Sen and the second at National Assembly President Heng Samrin’s.

She was charge in absentia by the Kampong Speu Provincial Court for incitement and insulting a public official. In Thailand, she was arrested and charged with overstaying her visa last month before being deported. 

The UNHCR has continued to seek clarifications about the circumstances of the deportation and strongly urged the Thai government to refrain from taking such actions in the future, the UN statement said. The UN refugee agency is prepared to discuss similar situations, in view of supporting Thailand so it upholds its international human rights obligations, the agency stated. 

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