Nearly 150 CNRP officials and supporters are due to appear at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday, their lawyer said this week.
The defense lawyer, Sam Sokong, said some of the defendants were overseas but many were not, and he could not see how they could all receive a fair trial, or be able to take Covid-19 precautions at the court.
Sokong said on Monday that he had received four sets of summonses for nearly 150 of his clients, all for charges of incitement and plotting.
He said enough time and space should be given to each defendant to uphold their right to a fair trial.
Fifty-nine of the ex-CNRP members were summoned at once on November 3 for trial, with summonses listing their names taped to abandoned party headquarters in Phnom Penh.
The party, which pushed the ruling CPP to near-defeat in 2013, was controversially dissolved by Supreme Court order in 2017. People who continue to show support have been repeatedly prosecuted, including more than 90 charged and more than 40 arrested last year, and almost 200 summoned to court and 30 arrested this year.
Dim Sakhoeun, a former opposition provincial councilor in Battambang, said he would travel to Phnom Penh to appear at the court on Thursday.
He was imprisoned for a month last year, and has since followed all conditions of his release, Sakhoeun said.
“I obeyed the obligations imposed by the court that required me to appear once a month at the police station, I respected all conditions, and I have never had any gathering with people on the ground. Why should I be scared?”
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson Y Rin said the number of defendants was not as high as Sokong claimed, though he would not say what the true figure was.
“According to the procedure, they can just show up and walk away,” Rin said. “It’s in order — no problems. Because for some, they just show up and leave.”
The court also had Covid-19 measures in place, he said.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager for rights group Licadho, said Thursday would be the first time that a Cambodian court would cross-examine more than 100 suspects in one day. He did not think it was the kind of procedure that would solve the problems Cambodia is facing.
“If we look at these accusations since 2019, we are frankly talking about the events of November 9,” Sam Ath said, referring to the date that exiled party co-founder Sam Rainsy promised to return to the country last year. Rainsy was not able to board his flight from Paris.
“So what would be a solution, I think, is to go back to the old way, where politicians stand for the national interest, the interests of the people as the main [thing], and return to negotiations to end the political crisis,” he said.
Social researcher Seng Sary said there was a chance that the court process could lead toward reconciliation.
“There may be a mediation using the judicial mechanism, dropping charges to ease the political situation,” Sary said, but noted the political conflict could still drag on for years.
Separately, nine CNRP leaders living overseas have a trial scheduled at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday.
CNRP vice president Mu Sochua, who has been living abroad since late 2017, said party activists were willing to go to court to give testimony on both days. Sochua and other summoned leaders have called for the government to allow them to return home and face trial.
Last week, through its embassy, the U.S. said it was closely monitoring the growing number of court cases against civil society activists, journalists and CNRP supporters, saying “tolerance for opposing views is essential in a true democracy.”