THE Court of Appeal yesterday postponed a hearing for opposition leader Sam Rainsy and two villagers from Svay Rieng province yesterday after defence lawyers walked out of the courtroom.
Lawyer Sam Sokong said that his clients – Meas Srey and Prum Chea – should have been allowed to make the trip to Phnom Penh, and that their case could not proceed fairly if they were denied the right to testify.
“I would like to oppose this hearing because of the absence of the accused,” Sam Sokong told the court. “My clients want to clarify this case.”
In January, Meas Srey and Prum Chea were found guilty and sentenced to one year in prison for destroying public property in the uprooting of border markers along the border with Vietnam. Sam Rainsy was convicted of the same offense, as well as racial incitement.
The opposition leader, who is abroad, was sentenced in absentia to two years in prison and fined 8 million riels (US$2,000).
Yesterday Sam Rainsy’s lawyer, Choung Choungy, blamed the government for the convictions of the two villagers.
“This is the government’s fault. They are responsible for this case,” he said.
He added that he agreed with Sam Sokong that the convicted villagers should be permitted to contest their convictions.
After both lawyers walked out of the court, Judge Khun Leang Meng postponed the hearing until an unspecified date, saying he wanted to address the lawyers’ concerns.
He said he would ask officials in Svay Rieng to send the jailed villagers to Phnom Penh for a future hearing.
But Chan Sok Yeang, a government lawyer working on the case, said the court would have been acting within its mandate had it seen fit to proceed with yesterday’s hearing. He accused a defence lawyer of acting on “political interests”.
“It is his business if it damages his clients’ interest,” he said. “It is his intention for his clients to be detained for a long time more.”