Defence lawyers for 11 CNRP activists found guilty of “insurrection” yesterday successfully lobbied the Appeals Court to split the activists’ appeal into two cases – one contesting the verdict and the other challenging flaws in the lower court’s procedures.
The opposition activists were given sentences of seven to 20 years last year for their alleged roles in a 2014 protest at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park that turned violent, resulting in six protesters and 39 Daun Penh district security guards, a force known for routinely using violence, being injured.
Following arguments from both sides, presiding judge Phlong Samnang agreed to split the appeal case and set aside one month for any complaints against the decision.
“If after one month there is no complaint against this decision, judges will set a hearing date for the case on [the lower court’s] procedures,” he said.
During the two-hour hearing yesterday, Choung Choungy, lawyer for the activists, said the 11 had no legal representation on July 21, 2015, when the lower court judge heard closing arguments from the prosecutor and announced the verdict.
However, Ly Chantola, a lawyer for the Daun Penh guards who are plaintiffs in the case, maintained there were no legal grounds for the defence lawyers’ request.
Choungy, for his part, argued that Chantola’s position “was just to hide the mistake made by the lower court’s judge”.
Chantola said the splitting of the case would only waste his clients’ time, to which Choungy shot back: “How can you say that your clients, who are not in jail, are wasting their time with this, when my clients have lost so much by being in jail?”
In an interview yesterday, Sam Sokong, another defence lawyer, said that on July 20, 2015, Phnom Penh court judge Lim Makaron had announced a hearing for the next day but the defence had requested a postponement. He added that they did not attend proceedings, unaware that the verdict would be announced the same day.
“However, this is a good sign that the judge has decided to split the case at the wish of the lawyers,” he added.
Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said it was an illegal procedure to not hear the defence lawyer’s closing arguments; however, there was nothing wrong with a judge announcing the verdict in the absence of a defence lawyer.
Additional reporting by Ananth Baliga and Chhay Channyda