More than 30 opposition activists appeared at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday on charges of incitement and plotting but the court adjourned the hearings to January and March.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has decided to adjourn the trial of more than 139 former opposition members and supporters for allegedly being involved in the coup attempt to overthrow the government on November 9 last year when Sam Rainsy announced his return to the country to restore human rights and democracy.
Court spokesman Kuoch Kimlong said yesterday 34 of the 139 defendants showed up at the court yesterday but it decided to adjourn the hearing.
The cases were divided into two groups in which the first hearing is slated to take place on January 14 next year and the second one will be held on March 4, he said.
Speaking to reporters outside the court compound yesterday, former opposition senator Thach Setha said he was baffled as to why he was summoned because he did nothing wrong.
“We are willing to work with the court to prove our innocence. It is not plotting. What am I doing wrong? Why am I accused of plotting and incitement,” Setha said.
He said that the court cases hanging over the heads of the opposition activists will exhaust his and other activists’ resources as it will drag on.
“It is very difficult for us. Currently, Cambodia is facing the problem of COVID-19. I have to come to the court, maybe I will be poorer spending time coming to the court,” Setha said.
Seng Theary, an international lawyer and founder of the Cambodian Center for Education for Citizens, one of the summoned, said the trial should be considered null and void because the court has violated the law.
“I urge the court to drop all charges against me and the former opposition activists unconditionally, and to release political prisoners and maintain democracy, and stop using the judiciary as a political weapon,” Theary said.
Ny Sokha, head of human rights Adhoc Investigation Unit, said the court process seemed unclear for the accused, with some of them having to attend the hearing without receiving the summons.
“I think the court seems to have applied the law incorrectly because some of them came to the trial without receiving the summons,” Sokha said.
Soung Chanthan, a government lawyer, said if defendants could not afford a lawyer, they could ask for a postponement.
“For adjournment, it is the discretion of the judge,” Chanthan said.
UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith, issued a statement yesterday saying the large-scale trial of opposition activists was likely politically motivated.
“I call on the authorities to open up civic space, protect and promote fundamental freedoms, including the rights to assembly and of expression, and to ensure the right to a fair trial for all, as guaranteed by international human rights norms and standards and Cambodian laws,” Smith said.