A judge in one of the trials of 23 men arrested during January garment strikes that turned deadly went on the offensive yesterday, independently bringing forth evidence against union leader Vorn Pov.
During Pov’s questioning in Phnom Penh Municipal Court, judge Keo Mony played a video of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA) president making a speech at a protest in front of the Council of Ministers on December 30, three days before the clash at the Yakjin garment factory, where he and nine others were arrested.
“I want to confirm that Vorn Pov always takes up the dharma for nonviolence, and want to ask him if he always [holds to nonviolence],” Mony said.
The judge’s actions drew criticism later, but he insisted he was acting within Article 325 of the Cambodian Code of Criminal Procedure.
The clause allows judges to ask defendants questions, which made introducing the video legitimate, he said.
“In a hearing, we can ask any questions related to finding the truth.”
The video Mony played features Pov standing in a tuk-tuk parked in the middle of a crowd of thousands on Russian Boulevard behind razor wire that authorities set up to block a minimum-wage march to the Council of Ministers.
Hanging out of the tuk-tuk with loudspeakers affixed to the roof, Pov addresses the crowd, urging armed military police to side with protesters rather than their superior officers. “I am Cambodian; I dislike violence,” Pov says. “[But] if your commander orders you to shoot people, you can turn your guns on your commander, because someone who orders that is not a Cambodian.”
Despite objections from defence attorney Sam Sokong, Mony maintained that he was acting accordingly in playing the video for the courtroom.
“Do you accept this video?” Mony asked, to which Pov said he did not.
He wasn’t the only one.
According to legal expert Sok Sam Oeun, Article 325, titled Interrogation of Accused, only states that trial judges may ask defendants questions during examination. While an investigating judge may seek out evidence, a trial judge may only consider evidence submitted, he said.
“If [Mony] is the one who found the evidence himself and not by another party, he cannot sit as trial judge . . . so in this case, he can be dropped as trial judge,” Sam Oeun said, adding that he “cannot tolerate” such actions from a judge.
After the video, Mony – who on Tuesday refused a defence request to submit photographic evidence – introduced a photo of a tuk-tuk containing rocks purportedly parked in front of Yakjin.
Some Yakjin protesters allegedly threw rocks at soldiers guarding the factory.
Sokong balked at Mony’s introduction of a photo they had not seen before, as well as his questions about who had placed the rocks in the tuk-tuk.
“You are biased towards the prosecution,” Sokong said.
During later questioning about the tuk-tuk, prosecutor Ly Sophanna cut Pov off when he attempted to describe his beating at the hands of soldiers.
“We only wanted to know where [the tuk-tuk was] and if it belonged to him,” Sophanna said. “We didn’t want to know if it was taken before or after the beating [by soldiers].”
The court session began at 8am and ended early at about 3pm when Pov said he felt too ill to continue. For the duration, Pov answered questions surrounding his alleged role in the clash between protesters and soldiers at Yakjin.
Pov and nine others are on trial for charges ranging from incitement to intentional violence stemming from the protest, at which security forces, including members of an elite paratrooper unit, and demonstrators traded volleys of rocks and other projectiles, and soldiers beat and arrested all 10 defendants.
The lack of balance in the trials involving the 10 men and the 13 others arrested the next day at a demonstration on Veng Sreng Boulevard is completely improper, said Moeun Tola, head of the legal program at the Community Legal Education Center, which is providing legal assistance to the defendants.
Overseeing the Veng Sreng trial, which stretched past 6pm yesterday, judge Leang Samnath heard story after story from defence witnesses who reported loved ones being falsely identified, beaten and accused of taking part in the violent protest – which culminated in authorities shooting dead at least four people.
“Pang Vanny stayed at his room, he did not come out,” Pang Samnang, Vanny’s younger sister, testified. “Police pushed into his room to arrest him. He was not a protester.”
Complaints read in court yesterday allege that the defendants destroyed property amounting to $530,575.
Both cases are scheduled to continue this morning at 8.