Phnom Penh prosecutors have claimed that prior to former CNRP leader Sam Rainsy’s planned return in 2019, former CNRP youth members were taught how to conduct Hong Kong-style demonstrations during a workshop in Malaysia.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court is trying 60 individuals linked to the Cambodia National Rescue Party – and another 77 in another trial scheduled to start March 4 – for alleged incitement and plotting to overthrow the government. The case relates to Sam Rainsy’s unsuccessful attempt to return to Cambodia in 2019.
At the trial’s fourth hearing, the court was scheduled to question three individuals on Thursday: Hy Sokchea, former commune councilor Nov Vichet and former provincial CNRP official Chea Chiv, who was absent because he was sick.
Deputy prosecutor Seng Hieng showed a slideshow of images of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong which was allegedly shown to participants at the workshop in Malaysia and attended by CNRP youth members.
“They were instructed on the demonstrations [in Hong Kong] to implement the same in Cambodia,” Seng Hieng said.
Hy Sokchea said the CNRP youth members were in Malaysia from August 15, 2019, for a two-day workshop on youth leadership. He said there was no presentation suggesting that participants overthrow the government.
“I joined a young leadership training program to bring the youth into the political arena,” Sokchea said. “I learned how to be good at public speaking.”
He added that Sam Rainsy and other senior leaders from the dissolved CNRP had met participants for 30 minutes during one of the sessions, but that there was no mention of Rainsy’s attempted return to Cambodia.
“[Sam Rainsy] just visited us and told the trainees to study hard,” Sokchea said.
Sokchea did not remember which organization was conducting the youth leadership training. On returning to Cambodia, he was questioned by the Interior Ministry’s Counter-Terrorism Department.
Another defendant, Nov Vichet, maintained that he was not involved in welcoming Sam Rainsy on November 9 and that he had not participated in any political activity since the party was dissolved by the Supreme Court.
“The reason I did not join is because the CNRP was dissolved,” he said. “Secondly, if I did go to receive Sam Rainsy, who will be responsible for me if any incident were to happen.”
Vichet was arrested on November 4, 2019, in Phnom Penh, days before Sam Rainsy’s return and accused of plotting to support the former CNRP leader.
Sam Sokong, a defense lawyer for the two defendants, said there was not enough evidence to prove the charges against his clients. He said they attended a training that was about building their personal leadership capacity and not about plotting to overthrow the government.
“My clients have clearly said he didn’t receive any plans or orders from former CNRP leaders, so there is no point related to the incitement and plotting charges,” Sokong said.
During the trial, dozens of family members of former CNRP members protested near the Phnom Penh court, demanding the release of their loved ones and for the court to drop the charges.
District security guards and police deployed around the court prevented them from getting close to the court.
The trial will resume on February 25.