Three men appeared in Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday to face terrorism charges stemming from threatening letters that were allegedly sent to the American, Australian and British embassies last April.
The three were charged last June under the Kingdom’s Anti-terrorism Law for allegedly signing a letter that threatened to attack the three embassies and identified the senders as members of the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation.
Rafiqul Eslami, a 42-year-old Bangladeshi national and former owner of a restaurant in the capital’s Chamkarmon district, broke down and cried during questioning Tuesday, denying the allegations against him.
“I have never had any dispute with any customers or business partners,” he said.
“I was friendly to all customers and people here … and I didn’t write any letter that attacked the embassies like in the allegations.”
Miah Muhammed Huymayan Kabir, a 62-year-old Bangladeshi national, also pleaded not guilty to the terrorism charge. The third suspect, DP Paudel, a 44-year-old Nepalese national who faces charges of terrorism and illegally living in Cambodia, was not questioned at the hearing due to time constraints.
Throughout his testimony Tuesday, Eslami claimed he had been framed by people who wanted to extort money from him following the sale of his restaurant.
Muong Sokun, a defence lawyer representing Eslami, added: “If you really wrote a letter threatening the three embassies, would you dare to include your name and signature so that police could arrest you?”
As Eslami was escorted out of the courtroom by police, he screamed a final plea for help.
“I didn’t write that kind of letter, please assist and help me,” he said.
According to Dun Vibol, the defence lawyer for Miah Muhammed Huymayan Kabir, Eslami was taken to the Ministry of Interior following his arrest last year, where he took a signature test that linked him to the letters.
Dun Vibol claimed that Eslami then told the police that the handwriting on the letters was similar to that of Kabir, leading to the 62-year-old’s arrest.
Kabir also claimed he had not signed the letter, though he admitted to being involved in a dispute with Eslami.
“I didn’t write the letter and the letter doesn’t belong to me, but I acknowledge having a verbal dispute with [Eslami] ... over borrowing money,” he said.
Presiding judge Sin Visal said representatives from the American, Australian and British embassies were in attendance at Tuesday’s hearing.
The United States embassy declined to comment on the case, citing security reasons. Lesley Saunderson, the deputy head of mission at the British embassy, also declined to comment.
If convicted on the terrorism charges, the suspects could receive between five and 10 years in prison. Their trial will resume on January 21.