The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday postponed the hearing of five human rights activists dubbed the “Adhoc 5” due to the absence of key witnesses.
Four officials from rights group Adhoc – Nay Vanda, Ny Sokha, Yi Soksan and Lim Mony, and Ny Chakrya, formerly of Adhoc and the National Election Committee (NEC) – were detained in April 2016.
Their case is linked to allegations levelled against court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha that he had an affair with a hairdresser, Khum Chandaraty.
In her complaint, she claimed they had bribed her to deny the purported extramarital affair.
At a hearing that was also attended by European Union and US embassy officials on Monday, a lawyer and the Adhoc officials demanded the presence of Chandaraty, also known as Srey Mom.
Among the seven witnesses that had been called, including Chandaraty, only Sum Chankea, an Adhoc investigation official, was present.
“The trial can proceed even as two defendants are absent because there are lawyers representing them,” said prosecutor Seng Heang.
In response, Sam Sokong, one of the five defence lawyers, requested a postponement as key witness Chandaraty was absent while two defendants – Lim Mony and Ny Sokha – had not received a warrant to attend the trial.
“If they have received a warrant but failed to show up, that would not be a problem because there are lawyers representing them, but they have received none.
“So even if they were present now, it would still be unlawful [to hear the case]. And if the case still proceeds, it will contradict articles 309, 466, and 467 of the Criminal Code. Therefore, I request a delay of the trial to a later date,” he said.
‘Don’t know what we did wrong’
The four other defence lawyers echoed Sokong’s argument. They said the trial could not be considered fair when Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) officials were allowed to film the proceeding while they were banned from doing so.
The group suggested the ACU provide a copy of the video after the proceeding and they also demanded the presence of Chandaraty.
“Khum Chandaraty, known as Srey Mom, needs to be here for a question-and-answer session. If she were here, we think she might express regret over her allegation against our clients,” said one of the lawyers, Lor Chunthy.
The three defendants who were present – Nay Vanda, Yi Soksan and Ny Chakrya – protested the bribery charge.
“We have been jailed for 14 months, but we still do not know what we did wrong. Key witness Khum Chandaraty is involved in this case, so it is necessary to have her at the trial,” said the trio.
Adhoc spokesperson Soeng Senkarona told reporters outside the courtroom that he did not know what led to the absence of the six key witnesses.
“The key witnesses are Khum Chandaraty, known as Srey Mom, Try Chhuon and lawyer Sotheara, who is Khum Chandaraty’s aunt. I don’t know why the warrants had not been delivered to two of the five defendants.
“For a trial that is not participated by relevant parties, we think it’s not complete and thereby compromises it,” he said.