Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Lawyers Give Concluding Arguments in CNRP Case, Verdict Due After Election

Seng Theary arrives at Phnom Penh Municipal Court dressed as Lady Justice. Picture taken May 3, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
Seng Theary arrives at Phnom Penh Municipal Court dressed as Lady Justice. Picture taken May 3, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

The trial of dozens of former opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party members and supporters wrapped up Tuesday, with the judge declaring that a verdict would be announced after the commune elections in June.

In their final statement, the prosecution urged the judge to find the 61 defendants guilty of incitement for allegedly planning to overthrow the government  in 2019.

“[We] ask the judges to convict the defendants of conspiracy and incitement causing serious disturbance to society,” deputy prosecutor Seng Hieng said. “We request those who are currently bailed be arrested and punished according to the law.”

Hieng argued that former CNRP leaders had devised a plan to overthrow the government by setting up a task force in the country, increasing their diplomatic efforts abroad, and urging the international community to impose sanctions on Cambodia.

They also spread information on human rights, land disputes and forestry issues in order to anger the public, he claimed, as well as attempting to get the military on side.

The defense team called the prosecutor’s conclusion unsubstantiated and politically motivated, and urged the judge to drop all charges.

“This is worthless evidence, and I would like the judges to drop the charges because there is no evidence to charge my clients and no evidence to reveal that activists lobbied the military,” said defense lawyer Sam Sokong.

Only four defendants were present in court: Tum Bunthorn, Kak Komphea, Heng Chansothy and Yok Neang. Activist Seng Theary made a dramatic appearance outside the court – dressed as Lady Justice in a white robe and holding the scales of justice – but did not attend the final hearing.

Her defense lawyer, Choung Choungy, said the case was purely political. “The law should not be a tool for the powerful,” he added.

After hearing the concluding statements, the judge said the verdict will be announced on June 14 after the commune election.

Seng Theary said the court’s decision to only announce the verdict post-elections was a sign defendants would likely be jailed. Therefore, the government was waiting until after elections so as not to draw international condemnation ahead of the vote.

“Let’s drop the crazy accusations against innocent people,” she said. “The dictatorship cannot break my spirit…I will not leave the country.”

For his part, fellow defendant Bunthorn angrily rejected the prosecution’s case saying: “You are trying to force me to say that Sam Rainsy betrayed the nation, I cannot say that.”

“Why are you so cruel? I have been taken away from my family, wife, and children while you are sleeping with air conditioners,” he added.

Prum Chantha, the wife of Kak Komphea, who has been in pre-trial detention for two years, said that if the court was fair and independent her husband would be released, but she doubted that was the case because it was obviously politically motivated.

“The case will be dropped if the court is independent, but I think it is impossible, the outcome will be negative,” she said. “I have no request at all, what is the point since the government does not respect the law and human rights.”