The Appeal Court on Friday rejected a filing made by 11 opposition activists against the legality of the procedures that lead to their 2015 convictions for “insurrection”, with the judge saying the appeal was thrown out because it itself did not follow procedures.
The 11 Cambodia National Rescue Party activists were suddenly convicted and handed sentences from seven to 20 years in July 2015 over a brawl between protesters and Daun Penh district security guards at Freedom Park the year before.
The fight, which erupted after months of the notorious guards violently dispersing peaceful protests, left 39 guards and at least six protesters injured.
However, Judge Phlong Samnang said on Friday that because the 11 activists appealed through two lawyers who presented them in separate legal cases, their appeal was invalid.
“The court denied their complaint because their complaint was not right,” he said. “They filed two different cases, and if they had filed as one the court would have considered it.”
In July 2016, a year after the Phnom Penh court’s verdicts, the Appeal Court agreed to lawyers’ requests to split the appeal into two: one challenging the verdict on purely procedural grounds and the other challenging the substance of the verdict.
The first filing included all 11, five represented by the lawyer Choung Choungy and six by Sam Sakong. However, Choungy’s five were, without apparent reason, left out of the filing, and unsuccessfully challenged the decision at the Supreme Court in January.
However, Judge Samnang on Friday included Choungy’s five clients and rejected at once the appeals made by all 11 of the activists. “At the trial the judge included all of them for challenging the procedures. The two complaints were merged together and tried on Friday,” Choungy said. Both lawyers said they would consult their clients before deciding on whether to appeal to the Supreme Court.
All 11 activists had argued their sentences were invalid because they had no legal representation during the closing arguments and verdict, which was suddenly announced on the day of sentencing and which lawyers for the 11 say they were not notified about.
Meach Sovannara, a US citizen now two years into his 20-year sentence, had said on his way into court that while he maintained there was no evidence to support the “insurrection” sentence, he hoped the verdicts would be thrown out on procedural grounds.
“This is case is political,” said Sovannara, who was head of the CNRP’s information department and said he had the right to have lawyers deliver closing arguments before a verdict. “I hope the presiding judge will use his fair and right judgment.”