Two opposition lawmakers beaten up outside the National Assembly in 2015 will have their appeal heard this Friday – nearly two years after the three Bodyguard Unit members responsible for the attack were given mostly suspended sentences by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

The three bodyguards – Mao Hoeung, Sot Vanny and Chhay Sarith – were part of a group of more than a dozen people that assaulted Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers Nhay Chamroeun and Kong Saphea in October 2015, pulling them out of their cars near the National Assembly and violently kicking and punching the duo.

In May 2016, the trio were convicted by the Phnom Penh court and sentenced to four years in prison, but with three years suspended. They were also asked to pay each lawmaker $9,800 in compensation.

The two lawmakers will not attend the Appeal Court hearing on Friday and will instead be represented by their lawyers, said Ket Khy, Saphea’s attorney.

“They cannot accept it and that is why they appealed to the Appeal Court. They cannot accept both the punishment and the compensation,” he said, also complaining about the delay in holding the trial.

Speaking from Canada, Saphea said there was little hope the court would rule in his and Chamroeun’s favour as long as it was not independent and remained under the government’s control.

“If the court was independent, I would attend. But in the current situation, the court works on double standards and we cannot trust it,” he said.

The three bodyguards could not be reached yesterday. However, months after their release in December, Vanny and Hoeun were promoted from lieutenant colonel to colonel according to a November 2016 document.

Chhay Sarith (left) and Sot Vanny exit a prisoner transport in 2016 at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Pha Lina

Reacting to the delayed proceedings, Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin yesterday claimed the complicated nature of the case could have led to the delay. However, in the same breath he accused the two former lawmakers of filing a politically motivated appeal with the aim of affecting the court’s procedures.

“Their intention is not the intention to seek justice, but the intention is to gain political interests,” he said.

He claimed that Saphea’s criticism of the court showed that the former lawmaker was not interested in appealing the decision but only wanted to attack the court system.

Saphea rebutted this, saying there would be no need to criticise the courts if they worked independently, and suggesting the Cambodian court system often worked in arbitrary ways.

“I, who am the victim, can become the criminal, and they might arrest and jail me this time,” he said.