The Phnom Penh Municipal Court is scheduled to announce on February 23 its verdicts for Sam Rainsy – the former president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) – and eight other former CNRP officials on incitement and plotting charges.
The case stemmed from their alleged attempt to incite military personnel to disobey orders and fomenting an insurrection against the government.
Among those present at the February 10 hearing were defence lawyers Sam Sokong and Kao Seiha, along with lawyers representing the government Kuon Saroeun and Chhit Boravuth, with Duch Sok Sarin as the presiding judge and Seng Heang as the prosecutor.
The hearing was held despite the absence of the accused.
During the hearing, Judge Sarin showed a short video clip of Rainsy speaking at a meeting in the US in September 2019 about his plans to return to Cambodia on November 9 of that year to “arrest” Prime Minister Hun Sen.
In the clip, Rainsy calls on the army to revolt against the “dictatorship” to overthrow the government on behalf of “the people”.
The clip then shows Rainsy trying to persuade Cambodian soldiers to ignore the orders of their senior officers. He calls the military’s leaders corrupt and claims that ordinary soldiers were paid very little so that the top military brass could pocket all their money themselves.
Rainsy then seemingly attempts to entice Cambodia’s soldiers, claiming that if they put him in power he would put together a financial assistance package for them funded through donations from abroad.
“When we have a genuine democracy we will assure that members of our armed forces live prosperous lives and they will be honoured as Cambodia’s heroes,” he said.
The clip also has Rainsy calling on all Cambodian migrant workers to prepare to accompany him on November 9, 2019 as he returns to Cambodia via one of the land border crossings with Thailand.
After the video clip was played, prosecutor Heang said that anyone who watched the video could only conclude that Rainsy was plotting to topple the Cambodian government.
“I would like to charge these nine persons with an attempt to attack the institutions of the Kingdom of Cambodia, thereby endangering them, and to violate the integrity of the national territory under articles 27 and 451 of the Criminal Code, a crime punishable by imprisonment of 15 to 30 years,” he said.
Speaking for the government, lawyer Boravuth concluded that what Rainsy had said at the US meeting in 2019 was intended to rally his supporters and to gain military support for their planned activities.
“The words from Sam Rainsy’s own mouth show that his intention was to topple the Cambodian government. I request that the court punish all of the accused severely and impose a fine of 200 million riel [$50,000] each,” he said.
Sokong, the defence lawyer for Rainsy and his eight co-defendants, claimed that the meeting in the US was merely political rhetoric and only intended for the other Cambodians who were in attendance at that meeting.
Furthermore, Sokong said, Rainsy was just exercising his right to free expression as stipulated in the Constitution.
“The prosecutor alleges that the speeches made by Sam Rainsy are a coup attempt. But speech without action is just talk. I request that all of my clients be cleared of these charges,” he said.