On-trial opposition activist Seng Chan Theary said she needed more time to study her case after enlisting the help of a new defense lawyer, as a judge reprimanded her for her ongoing online criticisms of the court.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday continued the trial of Case 1140, involving more than 40 supporters of the outlawed CNRP, one of several linked cases comprising mass trials against the opposition. The trials began at the end of 2020, but were delayed due to Covid-19.
A hearing lasting less than an hour in the morning did not see any questioning of defendants or witnesses, and instead responded to Chan Theary’s request for a delay. She arrived at the court in an orange jumpsuit resembling prison uniforms, after previously coming dressed as an apsara. She said she had been briefly detained earlier that morning while walking around with chains on her ankles.
Lawyer Choung Chou Ngy said he had only submitted his application to defend Chan Theary on Monday, and needed time to study the case in detail.
Judge Ros Piseth reminded Chan Theary that previously the court had assigned lawyers to defend her, but she had refused. Further delays would affect defendants who are in prison, Piseth said.
Theary, however, asked the judge to drop the “foolish” charges against her and others.
Piseth reacted to her words, criticizing Chan Theary for using harsh words against the court on Facebook. He said the words showed she did not value him.
“Using these words is not suitable as an educated person. You look down on the same Khmer people,” the judge said. “Please, avoid using harsh words. I am also Khmer, so please be understanding.”
Lawyer Chou Ngy said the attacks made by his client were just words, and could affect only feelings, but imprisonment had more serious effects.
He said society was ravaged, and he understood the court’s difficulties, and he sometimes wanted to withdraw himself from society and didn’t want to see it. But it would be escaping for the sake of his own happiness, the defense lawyer said.
Three defendants in the case who are in jail, Kak Komphear, Heng Chan Sothy and Tum Bunthorn, were given the chance to speak on the matter.
Komphear said he was thankful to the court for considering their detention, but he had been in jail for 19 months already, and he was willing to wait a little longer.
“I don’t have any problem with one week, two weeks, three weeks, or even up to a month. Now I don’t think about time at all,” Komphear said. The other two largely echoed his sentiments.
Consulting judge Im Vannak accused Chan Theary of making “an excuse” to delay the case, but Chou Ngy said the case had many defendants and he was not yet clear on the accusations against his client. The case was about Facebook posts, and Chan Theary made five to 10 a day, Chan Theary said.
After a five-minute break, Bunthorn, one of the jailed defendants, raised his hand.
“I don’t want to be released, but I only need to be on bail. Don’t be afraid that I am going to escape. Can’t escape. The executive power is too strong. Even if we escaped to Thailand, [we] could still be arrested and sent back,” he said.
Judge Piseth postponed the trial to February 15.
As Chan Theary left the court, supporters opposite her on the road yelled: “Release!”
Correction: The picture caption on this article earlier misstated that Chan Theary was arriving at the court, not leaving.