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CNRP defendants allege radiation at Prey Sar is causing memory loss

District security guards prevent family members of CNRP defendants from getting close to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court premises on Thursday. Panha Chhorpoan
District security guards prevent family members of CNRP defendants from getting close to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court premises on Thursday. Panha Chhorpoan

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court ordered an expert analysis into allegations from former CNRP members claiming that their memories were being affected by radiation, during one of four trials against members of the party.

Twenty-one former members of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party have been charged with plotting, incitement and inciting the military to disobey orders. The charges stem from Sam Rainsy’s attempted 2019 return to Cambodia and the formation of the Cambodia National Rescue Movement in the aftermath of the party’s dissolution.

Prosecutor Seng Hieng requested that an expert investigate the claims made by the defendants, who are currently being held at Prey Sar prison.

“Thousands of defendants don’t have problems with radiation but only a few defendants have raised it,” Hieng said, adding that he would still ask the prison director to investigate the claim.

All three defendants – Keo Thai, Sun Thun and Peab Mab – questioned on Thursday recanted their statements given to an investigating judge last year and said they could not remember answers given to the court official.

During the last hearing on January 23, a number of defendants had also taken back statements made to the police and investigating judge, alleging they were given under duress.

Sun Thun, who is a district councilor from Kampong Thom province, said he did not remember any of his answers because of this radiation and high blood pressure, refusing to answer any questions in court.

“I am just a common person,” he said, when asked if he got instructions from the CNRM. “I have never received any information; I was only focused on my job as a teacher.”

Keo Thai, a member of the party’s executive committee from Kampong Chhnang, said he did not try to gather party supporters to welcome Sam Rainsy in 2019.

“I have never said anything about gathering people and 10 months [since my arrest] I am still not clear why I am charged,” Thai told the court.

Be Tea Leng, deputy director at the Prisons Department, dismissed all allegations of radiation affecting prisoners’ memories.

“There is no radiation in the prison compound,” he said. “We are not allowed to use telephones, how is there radiation inside the prison?”

Defence lawyer Sam Sokong said his clients had complained of multiple physical ailments, such as headaches, not feeling well and other diseases. He said the radiation could originate from cellphone signal jammers installed at the prison.

“We are waiting for the results and will invite an expert for questioning over the radiation,” he said.

Sokong also said there was no solid evidence against his clients, if one looked at the telephone conversations produced in court. 

“It is wrong that police were secretly listening to their conversations and this affects a citizens’ rights,” he said.

Soeng Senkaruna, a senior investigator at rights group ADHOC, agreed with the court’s decision to get expert opinion over the defendants’ claims about radiation affecting their health.

“Questions have been raised about the radiation and everyone knows that the phone signal is blocked in the prison compound,” he said.

As the trial proceeded in the court, a small group of ten people, mostly family members of those being tried, were prevented from reaching the court by the more than 100 security personnel stationed around the court for the trial.

The group were blocked at the entrance of City Mall near Olympic Stadium, and chose to sit down on the sidewalk when prevented from reaching the court. 

Seng Theary, who is being tried in a separate trial against CNRP members and supporters, said she wanted to support the families who only wanted to be at the trial of their loved ones.

“Today, I came to support them and I came to support the defendants who are at the hearing,” Theary said. 

“Why don’t you allow us to get in front of the court?” Theary was heard telling the security guards and police officials that blocked her way. “It is our freedom of expression.”

The trial will continue on March 18. (Additional reporting by Khy Sovuthy)