Khmer People Power Movement (KPPM) leader Sourn Serey Ratha’s overseas activities became the focus yesterday of a Phnom Penh Municipal Court hearing – where two KPPM affiliates and a nonparty member stood trial – after lawyers accused him of holding seminars urging people to topple Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.
KPPM members Serey Bunlong and Sen Someng and civilian Oum Phirum appeared in court to face charges of treason and obstructing electoral procedures after they reportedly distributed T-shirts with slogans admonishing citizens to abstain from voting in last year’s national election.
US resident Serey Ratha – also accused of treason for allegedly calling on Cambodia’s armed forces to turn their weapons against “the despot”, Hun Sen, in a Facebook post – was absent from the hearing.
The trial, however, centred on the dissident’s alleged activities in the US and in Europe.
“They brought in two witnesses for the accused . . . but they spent a long time talking about Sourn Serey Ratha’s activities, like having workshops and speaking in public abroad,” said defence lawyer Sok Sam Oeun.
In one video clip, which plaintiff lawyers called proof of Serey Ratha’s treachery, according to Sam Oeun, the vocal government critic was recorded saying: “We must stand up to struggle for the nation and have people in the country rebel in every village and 25 provinces. This is a joint mission and the policy of KPPM.”
But in an open letter read to the court, Serey Ratha denied the treason charges.
“The terrorist charges are not true and the USA does not allow terrorists to do that in their country,” he wrote.
During the trial, the three accused also said they weren’t aware or Serey Ratha’s political leanings and, had they known, would not have distributed the T-shirts.
If charges were dropped against him and the other accused, Serey Ratha wrote that he will come back to Cambodia to start a political party for the next elections.
Presiding judge Tob Chhung Heng said more evidence will be presented in the next hearing on December 16.