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New charges as trial wraps

Union leader Vorn Pov talks to the public from inside a transport truck as it enters Phnom Penh Municipal Court
Union leader Vorn Pov talks to the public from inside a transport truck as it enters Phnom Penh Municipal Court. Heng Chivoan

New charges as trial wraps

Despite presenting no hard evidence against defendants throughout the two trials of 23 men arrested during a strike that turned deadly in early January, a prosecutor used his closing statement yesterday to up the charges against union leader Vorn Pov.

The final day of two trials that have dominated public discourse for nearly five months ended with prosecutor Ly Sophanna calling for guilty verdicts for 10 men he claims were responsible for violence at the Yakjin garment factory on January 2.

More surprisingly, he told Judge Keo Mony that because Pov lacked evidence to support his claim that he attended that rally only in his role as a union president, he would increase charges against him to instigation with aggravating circumstances and additional penalties.

Instigation with aggravating circumstances alone carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

“We raised the charges, because there is no evidence that Pov went to Yakjin [only] to monitor the protest,” Sophanna said.

Pov’s lawyer, however, said in his closing statement that the prosecution had failed to prove the president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA) had done anything wrong at all.

“There’s no real evidence to prosecute Vorn Pov,” defence attorney Sam Sokong said. “It’s just the word of witnesses who are not present at the court hearing.”

When the trial began at the end of last month, Pov was answering two counts of inciting violence, which carries a maximum prison term of two years.

Only one of eight witnesses testified in court, while the others submitted statements read aloud.

Chu Eng, of the paratrooper unit that arrested the Yakjin suspects, named Pov as the instigator of the clash, saying that he encouraged people to act violently towards authorities after they arrested three people.

“I say again and again, if not for Vorn Pov, only three people would be [in court] today,” said Eng, who added that he later found rocks in the tuk-tuk from which Pov had been speaking. Proceedings were briefly suspended yesterday after Pov fainted in the middle of his questioning at 11am.

Prosecution and defence also rested their cases in the trial of 13 arrested at a protest on Veng Sreng Boulevard on January 3, when police shot dead at least four people.

“Based on reports from authorities and witnesses, the defendants are anarchic people,” prosecutor Top Chhunlong said. “They threw stones, sticks and other projectiles things at police.”

Verdicts for both cases are due May 30.

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