Fourteen defendants — six of them in absentia — were tried for incitement at the Tbong Khmum Provincial Court in a full-day hearing that saw questions over messages on T-shirts and rallies in Phnom Penh, family members said.
Many of the defendants are supporters of the outlawed CNRP, including former councilors and local officials. Several of their wives have become active protesters since their arrests.
Theng Chean, spokesman for the provincial court, said that following Thursday’s trial, the court would announce a verdict on June 30.
Toek Soklorn, the wife of defendant Proa Chanthoeun, said her husband was questioned about going to Phnom Penh when other CNRP members were being tried at the municipal court.
“They asked, why did you go to Phnom Penh? And who did you gather? And my husband said he didn’t organize [people] and he went to look for work and to observe a political trial,” Soklorn said.
Puy Chanly, the wife of Mok Sam An, said her husband was also questioned about recruiting people for a petition.
Some of the defendants were arrested around the anniversary of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements in October last year. Some Tbong Khmum CNRP supporters were set to join a rally outside the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh to submit a petition about honoring the accords, which attempted to install multiparty democracy in Cambodia.
“They asked him in a lot of detail from A to Z, what was the date of submitting the petition and when they left and where they went and everything, and accused [him] of causing chaos for society,” Chanly said.
Srey Seath, the wife of Su Yean, said questioning of her husband focused on “wearing an illegal T-shirt.”
Ahead of the Paris Peace Agreements rally, supporters printed green T-shirts that read, “Thank you for peace, but respect Article 2 of the Constitution.”
“Thank you for peace” is a government slogan, while Article 2 of the Constitution refers to the country’s territorial borders. The Vietnamese border in Tbong Khmum has been the center of controversy, with prominent unionist Rong Chhun arrested after issuing a report about locals claiming they were losing land to Vietnam.
“They accused us of incitement and gathering people to protest and wearing the illegal T-shirt,” while witnesses testified that Yean was the one who supplied the shirts, Seath said.
“This is very unjust,” she said.
The Supreme Court dissolved the main opposition CNRP in 2017 after arresting party president Kem Sokha over accusations of treason. More than 5,000 local opposition councilors were removed from their positions as a result.
The need to “re-establish a credible opposition” and “the duration, scale and impact of Cambodia’s violations of the rights to political participation” were among the reasons cited by the E.U. when it decided to suspend trade preferences with Cambodia last year.