The Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday restarted its snap trial of former Khmer Power Party leader Sourn Serey Ratha for allegedly inciting soldiers to disobey orders by criticising the deployment of troops to the Lao border.
During military tensions between Laos and Cambodia earlier this month, the 44-year-old wrote on Facebook that the conflict would only harm soldiers, while generals safely enjoyed their “money” and “girls”.
Serey Ratha was charged and put on trial just a day after his arrest on August 13, a speed seldom seen in Cambodia’s courts, but the trial was delayed because he lacked a lawyer.
The ex-party leader is charged with “inciting military personnel to disobedience” and “demoralisation of the army”, as well as “incitement to commit a felony”. The first two charges carry prison sentences of two to five years each, while the last charge carries a sentence of six months to two years.
During yesterday’s three-hour hearing, Judge Ros Piseth and prosecutors Seang Heang and Seang Sok questioned Serey Ratha about his objectives and the meaning of his post.
Serey Ratha defended his words, explaining that some officials personally enriched themselves, and that benefits didn’t go to soldiers on the ground. As an example, he described how he had raised donations to buy shoes for the soldiers in the past, only to later find them on the local market after he gave them to a donation committee.
He added that he supported the military. “Politicians should put politics aside and support the soldiers,” he said. “If there is a war . . . I and my supporters will become soldiers to protect our nation.”
But Prosecutor Heang said claims that commanders were “being happy with girls” demoralised soldiers. “The suspect even acknowledged that what he wrote affected the soldiers during the police questioning,” he said, requesting that Serey Ratha be found guilty.
The charges carry prison sentences totalling up to 12 years.
However, Serey Ratha rejected the allegations and questioned the legality of his police questioning. “At the time I was hungry, and it was very late, I had no lawyer,” he said.
His lawyer, Sok Sam Oeun, asked the judge to “make a reflection”. “It’s just a post as a Facebook status; can it really cause soldiers to lose their motivation?” he asked. “He had good intentions for the country.”
And while Sam Oeun acknowledged that his client’s words were “rough”, he said soldiers weren’t harmed.
But Judge Piseth told the accused that he could not “insult [people] recklessly”. “We have nice words,” the judge said.
After the hearing, Serey Ratha’s wife, Nai Chakriya, said she hoped the court would provide justice to her husband. “We don’t do anything that affects our soldiers, and my husband has done nothing to damage them,” she said.
A verdict is expected today.