Amid denials of links to various politicians and opposition figures, one activist on trial at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday for incitement spoke of receiving a $1,000 donation for office rent from a Cambodian-Australian MP who is also a defendant in the case.
Fifteen defendants are part of the trial, which is related to protests in support of jailed unionist Rong Chhun who claimed last year that Cambodia was ceding territory to Vietnam, inflaming a long-standing nationalist controversy.
Ten of the defendants were announced by the court clerk as present on Tuesday, including nationalist youth group Khmer Thavrak’s Chhoeun Daravy, who arrived to the courthouse with a shaved head.
Asked after the hearing outside the courtroom why she had cut her hair, she said, “I want the law to be independent and just.”
Following Chhun’s comments and arrest last year, small protests sprung up, attended by some activists from the outlawed opposition CNRP as well as members of Khmer Thavrak and a similar activist group, the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association (KSILA).
Four of 15 defendants were questioned in court on Tuesday, and six others have also been jailed. Five have not been detained, according to a court document.
Mean Prum Mony, 37, of KSILA, began to speak as he took the stand about the injustice of his arrest and that he only worked for the betterment of society, but was stopped by the judge in order to follow the questioning procedure. The judge told Prum Mony that he would be allowed to express himself in time.
Questioned by Judge Tith Sothy Borachhard, Prum Mony denied the incitement charge against him, saying he had just broadcast live footage from the protests and had not made any comments.
“I work to help society, human rights and democracy, and urge students to protect benefits for Cambodian society,” he said.
Under questioning from deputy prosecutor Sam Rithy Veasna, Prum Mony accepted that he knew Hong Lim, a former MP in Australia’s Victoria state, and received $1,000 from him to pay for the association’s office rent.
Lim had also previously supported the group before Prum Mony joined, he said.
“You said you do not have a connection with Hong Lim, but you accepted that you have received money from Hong Lim?” Rithy Veasna asked.
“I have a normal relation, but not deep,” Mony said.
Mony denied receiving advice or gathering people to protest, saying he had participated voluntarily.
He added that the protests were not about pressuring the courts, but to demand social justice.
Three other defendants were questioned on Tuesday, CNRP activists Chhou Pheng, Kong Sam An and Chhum Puthy. The CNRP, formerly the country’s main opposition party, was controversially outlawed in 2017.
Pheng denied the charges and previous testimony given to the court, saying he had pushed himself to thumbprint the document because he felt uncomfortable in detention.
Defense Lawyer Sam Sokong asked him, “Do you think that the protests were illegal?”
Pheng answered, “I think it is nothing against the law. Strikes and demonstrations are stated in the law, and it was peaceful.”
Sam An also denied the charges and having any connection to senior CNRP officials Ho Vann, Kong Saphea and Ou Chanrith.
Rithy Veasna, the deputy prosecutor, asked, “Have you ever gotten any order to gather people to protest for the release of Rong Chhun?”
Sam An said, “No, never and this is from my heart.”
“Do you think that it is right [to protest]?” Rithy Veasna continued.
“I think it is a freedom of the people and they have the right to protest,” Sam An said.
Puthy, another defendant, gave confused statements in which sometimes he accepted the charges and sometimes denied them. He complained about his health problems and stuffiness in the prison, and said that past injuries from a traffic accident made him forget a lot.
The next hearing was scheduled for March 2.