A former leader of the outlawed CNRP’s youth movement in South Korea was questioned by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday over social media posts calling for Cambodians to return home in support of Sam Rainsy’s failed plan to return and unseat Prime Minister Hun Sen in November 2019.
Prosecutors and judges narrowed in on Facebook posts in which Prom Rath called for Cambodians working in South Korea to “struggle” and “sacrifice” – in the latest hearings among a set of “plotting” and “incitement” charges against members and affiliates of the CNRP.
“What is the purpose of ‘struggle’ and ‘sacrifice,’? Judge Ros Piseth asked Prom Roth, who had been a deputy leader of the youth wing in South Korea, where tens of thousands of mostly young Cambodians have migrated for work.
“These posted messages were not to incite people to rebel. I only intended for people to properly observe politics in Cambodia,” Rath replied, adding that his intention was to “promote human rights, not topple the government.”
Roth is among more than 130 defendants facing “plotting” and “incitement” charges launched last year against members and affiliates of the CNRP, which was dissolved by the Supreme Court in 2017 over an alleged US-backed plot to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The trials, which have thus far focused largely on social media posts and communications, have been condemned in Cambodia and internationally, with Amnesty International calling them “the culmination of a relentless campaign of persecution against Cambodia’s political opposition.”
Also on Thursday, defendant Chea Yamorn, a former deputy commune chief in Boeng Tumpon, Phnom Penh, refused to answer all questions from prosecutors and judges, claiming breaches of official procedure.
“I don’t even have any documents related to the accusations against me,” he told reporters after leaving the court room. “Secondly, answering questions will not result in justice because the charges against me are politically motivated.”
Defense layer Sam Sokong, who is representing multiple defendants in the slew of case, said that Yamorn had only ever exercised his rights to an opinion and a political career, noting his place in the hierarchy, far from the top leaders.
“Their purpose is not to intentionally commit crimes; they wanted citizens to understand rights and democracy and to see Cambodia have democracy and human rights,” he said.
Chak Sopheap, executive director at Cambodia Centre for Human Rights who monitored the hearings, said she was concerned that the words “struggle” and “sacrifice” were being redefined and improperly linked to rebellion.
“[Using the] words struggle and sacrifice does equal intent to rebel,” Ms. Sopheap said. “All these things are expressed [public] opinions.”
“Those are words that I have been raised up with; I always praise all activists who struggle for the cause of protecting and promoting human rights.”
The trial is scheduled to resume on February 18.