The Phnom Penh Municipal Court will hear the cases of 150 people including former leaders and supporters of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) on November 25-26 on charges of “attack”, “plotting”, and “incitement”.
The charges are in relation to their pledge of support for the return of former self-exiled CNRP leader Sam Rainsy to Cambodia on November 9 last year.
Suong Chan Thorn, the lawyer representing the government, said the court will first hear a case against nine people charged with “attack”. Named in this case are CNRP leaders Rainsy, Eng Chhai Eang and Mu Sochua.
The court will hear cases against 114 others on November 26 on charges of “plotting” and “ incitement”.
The total number of defendants remain unclear.
Defense lawyer Som Sokong said police had posted a warrant at the former CNRP headquarters in Meanchey district’s Chak Angre Krom commune.
“Until now, we have yet to have the real number of people charged because not all have been summoned to court yet. The number we have now is nearly 150,” he said.
Sokong said more than 100 of his clients were charged with plotting and incitement to cause social chaos. However, most of his clients fled abroad to escape arrest.
“Lawyers have difficulties in preparing a defense. It requires legal counselling online and via phone calls. There are many clients and we cannot meet all of them. Another difficulty is we didn’t study the case well. There are many clients charged with criminal offences,” he said.
Sokong said it will be difficult to ensure justice if the hearing is held for all the accused at the same time and not open to the public.
“I think such a hearing is possible, but there should be discussions as to how it should be arranged to follow the stadard of hearings at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia,” he said, referring to the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
“We can set a timetable and times, and [decide] how many accused and witnesses can appear at the hearing at a time. By so doing, some of the accused would not have to sit watching the judges question only one or two defendants and adjourn. It would be a waste of their time,” he said.
Dim Saroeun, a former CNRP senior official from Battambang province, said he will appear as summoned by the court.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Kuch Kimlong could not be reached for comment.
Political analyst Lao Mong Hay said the recent arrests of protesters and the summoning of former activists to appear in court was similar to a situation in 2014. Then, he said, UN rights envoy to Cambodia Surya Subedi expressed concern about human rights abuses when he saw the court being used as a tool of the executive body.
“This status of our courts of law has not changed since then, and to expect justice from them would simply be wishful thinking,” he said.
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said it was not strange that so many people have been accused.
He said some offences involved many people because the crimes committed were done systematically and were clearly organised.
“Whether people are more or less involved, as long as there is a strong legal basis to show there are stakeholders, initiators and conspirators, they must be held accountable for their offences based on facts and laws,” he said.