Kandal Provincial Court has summonsed opposition lawmaker-elect Chan Cheng to appear on Tuesday to stand trial on long-dormant charges of allegedly helping an activist escape from police custody, the lawmaker and his co-defendants said yesterday.
The move came as seven of his fellow Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers-elect were being held in Prey Sar prison on charges ranging from holding an illegal demonstration to insurrection, and was decried by the defendants yesterday – as it was in 2011 when the charges were first made – as purely political.
“I reckon it is political pressure because it is an old story from years ago, and I also clarified it at that time,” Cheng said, noting that his lawyer would appear on Tuesday but that he was uncertain whether he himself would attend.
The charges stem from an incident that took place in 2011, when Cheng’s co-defendant, opposition activist and then-commune councillor Meas Peng, was temporarily detained for allegedly destroying private property but was not charged. Fellow co-defendant Choung Choungy – a lawyer who was representing Peng – arrived, told police they were detaining his client illegally and left with Peng and Cheng after police reportedly agreed.
The case was put under the supervision of an investigating judge in early 2012 and Cheng was stripped of his parliamentary immunity, but it never progressed and no one was detained.
Cheng’s lawyer, Ket Khy, said that his client had in no way participated in the alleged breakout, but rather “just went to buy rice for Meas Peng; suddenly he saw the detainee walk out of the jail and he handed [the rice] over to him”.
Choung Choungy – who has consistently maintained that Peng had been released and didn’t escape – said yesterday that he would file for a delay of the hearing as his own lawyer had not had time to go over the case file.
Kim Meng, the provincial judge who signed the summons, could not be reached yesterday for comment.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay agreed yesterday that the case was politically motivated, and intended to compound the pressure imposed by the detention of the seven lawmakers-elect.