The five former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) members who faced legal action for taking part in last year’s “Clean Finger” campaign are among the 25 now summoned for questioning for “violating the Supreme Court ruling” that saw the party dissolved.
A further five former CNRP members in Battambang province were called before the provincial court over Monday and Tuesday, with the lawyer for all 25 saying they face a charge of “discrediting judicial decisions”.
As of Tuesday, a total of 25 CNRP members and supporters had been summoned to appear for questioning by provincial court prosecutor Keu Bunnara, according to Sor Chandeth, a former senator with the now-defunct Sam Rainsy Party.
In July last year, the Battambang Provincial Election Committee (PEC) ordered former CNRP local officials Kruy Kim Saing, Pov Taing, Mang Chhun, Thorng Saroeun and Chea Chiv to pay 10 million riel ($2,500) for “prohibiting people from voting”.
On appeal, the Constitutional Council upheld the National Election Committee (NEC) trial council’s verdict to impose, under Article 142 of the Law on Political Parties, fines of five million riel each on two of the five and to punish another with a 10 million riel fine.
Chea Chiv was ordered to pay 10 million riel, with Thorng Saroeun and Kruy Kim Saing told to pay five million each. Mang Chhun and Pov Taing escaped punishment as it was decided they were not involved.
The Clean Finger campaign, in which people displayed fingers not stained by voting ink, was launched after CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy appealed to the public to refrain from voting in last year’s national elections in protest at the dissolution of the former opposition party.
Last August, the Constitutional Council’s trial chamber fined Thorng Saroeun and Kruy Kim Saing five million riel, while Chea Chiv was fined 10 million riel.
The five are to appear at the provincial court next Thursday and Friday.
Chea Chiv, the former CNRP executive committee chief for Battambang province, said on Tuesday that he and the other activists that were seen raising their fingers in a photo last year did not mean to discourage people from taking part in the elections.
He said the gesture was merely intended to show that they did not want to vote without the participation of a party they liked.
“That case has finished, but now there is another complaint against me. This really is pressure and a threat at the grassroots level,” Chiv said.
He said that most of the 25 people summoned were in the photo he posted on social media last July with the caption “Our fingers are really clean”.
In the picture, more than 20 people were shown raising their index fingers.
“I think this is unjust because the previous complaint has finished. I have paid the fine and haven’t done anything since. But now another case comes against me. So I think this is unjust,” Chea Chiv said on Tuesday.
The latest to receive a summons was Ny Romduol, former Prek Luong commune chief in Ek Phnom district, and Pov Taing.
“[They] dissolved my party and robbed me of the commune chief position the people gave me. Now I am a normal citizen selling iced drinks in front of a school, but I am still called to go to court. I don’t understand,” Romduol wrote on her Facebook.
Heng Luy, the spokesperson for the prosecution section at Battambang provincial court could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
The lawyer representing the 25, Sam Sokong, said on Tuesday that he had been denied access to the case by the deputy prosecutor.
“The deputy prosecutor on Tuesday said the prosecutor did not allow him to let me see or make a copy of the case. This violates the rights of a defence lawyer and the rights of suspects. If a lawyer cannot copy a case file, how can he defend a case? This is not in line with procedure,” he said.
He said that according to the allegation made by deputy prosecutor Keu Vannara, all 25 were to face a “discrediting judicial decisions” charge under Article 523 of the Criminal Code.
The article states that criticising a judicial letter or decision with the aim of disturbing public order or endangering an institution of the Kingdom of Cambodia “shall be punishable by imprisonment from one to six months, with a fine ranging from 100,000 to one million riel [$25 to $250]”.