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Trial for activists adjourned until March 10

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Rong Chhun supporters gather to demand his release at the Supreme Court in Phnom Penh in November. Hong Menea

Trial for activists adjourned until March 10

The trial of Rong Chhun and two other activists charged with causing social chaos over issues related to border with Vietnam has been adjourned until next month following a heated exchange of words between lawyers for the government and Chhun’s attorneys during the third hearing on February 17.

Chhun, a member of the Cambodia Watchdog Council, was present at the hearing along with Sar Kanika and Ton Nimol, who took part in a protest demanding his release.

The trial was presided over by Judge Li Sokha with Seng Heang as prosecutor.

Defence lawyers included Sam Sokong, Chuong Chou Ngy, Ket Khy and Lor Chunthy while lawyers representing the government were Chhit Boravuth and Kuon Saroeun.

During the hearing, defence lawyer Sokong questioned Chhun regarding his arrest and whether the police had executed the warrant at night.

Chhun confirmed that the police had arrested him at night at his home in Phnom Penh’s Chak Angre Krom commune. He said he could not count the exact number of police but a great many of them had been present.

Chhun added that at the time the police did not show him the arrest warrant and they had forcibly placed him in the back of a lorry.

He said they brought him to the Phnom Penh municipal police station for questioning, but that they did not mistreat him.

Prosecutor Seng Heang noted to the court that he was a legal coordinator that night and had gone to Chhun’s home with the police.

“That night, I went directly there in person so there was no need to show the arrest warrant because it was a flagrant offence,” Seng Heang said.

Chhun said: “I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve learned a few things about the law. You are an actual lawyer and yet you didn’t think to show me the arrest warrant and you didn’t bother to introduce yourself to me, so how would I know who you are? If you don’t tell me that you are a prosecutor, I have no way of knowing that.”

Director of Border Survey Technical Department Lay Sieng Ly gave testimony on February 17 that Chhun’s statements regarding the border between poles 114 and 119 in Trapeang Phlong village in Tbong Khmum province’s Ponhea Kraek district are not true.

Sieng Ly said he had measured and planted the poles there himself, and he did not see any land that had been lost to Vietnam.

He further testified that in 2009, the location was all forest without houses or people farming crops, and his working group had gone there to measure the border and had finished planting the border poles in late 2010.

“The allegations of land loss to Vietnam are not true. I base that assertion on the strength of the documentary evidence, not just my own statements about it.

“Chhun made these inflammatory public statements saying that land had been lost to Vietnam and he did so without informing my department about it when he went to check the border,” he said.

During the hearing, government lawyer Boravuth requested that Sieng Ly explain the techniques used to measure and plant the border poles.

Defence lawyer Sokong then objected and said the question about the techniques seemed to be irrelevant to the facts of the case. He said the case is about statements allegedly made by Chhun and not about border measurement techniques.

An argument between the two sides then erupted and they vigorously debated the relevance of Boravuth’s line of questioning at length – until Judge Kanika finally announced the adjournment of the trial to March 10.

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