The incitement and plotting trial for roughly 60 former members and activists of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) resumed at Phnom Penh Municipal Court on January 14.
The trial was held under strict security conditions both inside and outside the courtroom. Of the roughly 60 defendants, only 11 were present in court. And of the 11, two have been in pre-trial detention.
The other defendants were absent with some of them remaining in self-exile abroad.
The charges brought against them stemmed from the plans made to return to Cambodia by former CNRP president Sam Rainsy. At the time, Rainsy claimed he would return on November 9, 2019, to arrest Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Rainsy’s plan was deemed a plot to topple the government.
Two of the defendants present in court at the January 14 hearing were Kak Komphear and Heng Chansothy.
Komphear said that before the CNRP was dissolved, he held the position of municipal councillor and head of the CNRP’s election affairs office.
He said, however, that after the dissolution he did not have anything further to do with the party or with Rainsy and that he had only heard the rumour about Rainsy’s planned return.
He denied mobilising people to welcome Rainsy.
“I used to make jokes with my friend where I raised two hands up and they took photos of me. Now, I don’t know what exactly I did that can be regarded as incitement or plotting,” Komphear said.
Chansothy, who is also in pre-trial detention, said he was former deputy chief of the CNRP for Phnom Penh’s Por Sen Chey district.
After the party was dissolved, he said he did not do anything to oppose the government and had only used Facebook to express his opinion.
“I listened to the broadcast of Radio Free Asia, and I expressed my opinion with an intention to unify Cambodia to help build the country. I said that to the winner goes the victory, but the loser must still help the winner to develop the country,” he said.
Chansothy admitted to the trial chamber that if Rainsy had really returned on November 9, 2019, he would have gone to welcome him.
After four hours of questioning, Presiding Judge Ros Piseth decided to set January 28 for the resumption of the hearings.
Meanwhile, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith expressed her concerns about what she called a “mass trial” with 60 defendants at once, which puts their individual rights to a fair trial at risk.
Smith was also concerned about the trial in absentia for the majority of the accused, despite some of them having made efforts to return to Cambodia to stand trial.
“The government of Cambodia should respect the rights to a fair trial of these individuals as stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights [ICCPR] to which Cambodia is a state party,” she said.
“I equally encourage the authorities to facilitate the safe return of these individuals and to allow them to hear and defend their cases in court. In case their physical presence cannot be arranged, I encourage the authorities to facilitate remote participation of these individuals or adjourn the trials until the accused are able to travel,” Smith added.
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin shrugged off Smith’s concerns, saying it was typical given that she is the special rapporteur on human rights. He said the authorities will continue to see to their duties according to Cambodian laws and procedures.
Regarding the request for remote participation or postponement of the trial, Malin disagreed.
“That’s what she thinks, but such requests on behalf of the defendants must be applied for with the court by those individuals through their lawyers because Cambodia doesn’t customarily allow people to be represented by concerned onlookers regardless of who employs them.
“The court will then decide whether to accommodate them based on Cambodian law and in response to any specific and reasonable concerns they raise,” Malin said.