When union leader Vorn Pov was finally allowed to give testimony yesterday on the third day of the trial of 23 men arrested during a garment strike in January, he found himself cut off by an attorney ordering him to answer only the exact question he was being asked.
“I want to answer completely, so you can find justice for me,” the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA) president said at Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
The exchange was indicative of the stance judges and prosecutors took towards the workers and unionists charged with crimes ranging from incitement to intentional violence.
Answers by four defendants arrested during a protest at Yakjin Garment factory on January 2 were repeatedly cut off by judge Keo Mony and prosecutor Ly Sophanna yesterday on the grounds that they were irrelevant.
In courtroom two, judge Leang Samnath agreed with the prosecution that its witnesses testifying against 13 men charged over a protest on January 3 – when authorities shot dead at least four people – needed limited cross examination.
Four high-profile activists charged with incitement in the Yakjin case all told stories of being attacked for no reason.
“I said I wasn’t a protester, but [soldiers] said, ‘You are a disturbance’, and beat me,” said Sokun Sombath Piseth of the Center for Labor Rights of Cambodia. His arm was broken that day. “I didn’t do anything wrong … the soldiers broke the law.”
Sophanna quickly interjected, reminding attorney Sam Sokong that his client was the one on trial.
Similar exchanges occurred during questioning of Boeung Kak activist Chan Puthisak and Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community coordinator Theng Savoeun.
As 22 military police officers took the stand, prosecutor Top Chhunlong asked judge Samnath to restrict defence attorneys from questioning them about allegations of beating defendants.
“The accused did not file complaints against the police alleging beatings,” Chhunlong said. “I would like to ask the judge not to allow the defence to raise questions related to beatings or torture.”
Samnath agreed and banned the line of questioning.
Mony denied requests from Sokong to enter certain photographs into evidence, telling them the court will later view a video that will show events covered in the photographs.
“We regret the judges’ consistent warnings to the defence and the prosecutors’ objections to evidence,” Am Sam Ath, senior investigator at rights group Licadho, said. “This will impair justice for the accused.”
All but one of 23 witnesses for the prosecution testified in the case of 13 charged in the Veng Sreng protest yesterday.
Proceedings will continue today at 8am.