CNRP Mass Trials Set to Resume This Week

3 min read
Supporters of the banned opposition CNRP sit across the street from the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on January 14, 2020. (Chorn Chanren/VOD)

Two CNRP mass trials involving dozens of defendants are set to be heard this week at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after being delayed by the “February 20” Covid-19 outbreak earlier this year.

The first case, which was due to have a fourth trial hearing on February 25 — and is now rescheduled for Tuesday — involved 60 opposition politicians and supporters who supported the return of exiled CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy in late 2019. Rainsy did not board his flight from Paris, but dozens of supporters were charged and arrested.

The second case, which had 21 defendants as of its last hearing on February 4, has touched on several issues including the formation of an overseas Cambodia National Rescue Movement and social media posts about Covid-19. A hearing is set for Thursday.

In a court document dated November 16, deputy prosecutor Seng Heang issued a list of 42 former CNRP officials summoned to appear for the hearings on December 7 and 9.

Seng Chantheary, a Cambodian-American human rights lawyer and activist who was among those named on the list, told VOD on Monday that she had received a summons from police on November 23.

“I will participate and I will not go anywhere,” she said. “I am ready with mind, am ready to be jailed and be ready for everything. My spirit is strong and I will not go anywhere.”

Though she was willing to attend, Chantheary said the trial was a political show where the judges and prosecutors merely followed orders from politicians.

“There are no grounds in the matter of facts and the matter of law,” she said. As have other national and international legal experts, Chantheary said she viewed the case as part of a campaign of state-sanctioned harassment. She added that she hadn’t done anything criminal but instead had taught many people about human rights and democracy since returning from the U.S.

Rather than escape, Chantheary said she wanted to use her voice in support of the others who have been prosecuted.

“I want to stay on and encourage and give warmth to others who have no international support network,” she said.

Chantheary added that she had recently shaved her head in mourning for Sin Khon, a CNRP youth activist who was murdered in Phnom Penh two weeks ago. She said she regretted seeing the country have no way for youth to fulfill their potential.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson Y Rin confirmed on Monday that the trial would proceed as scheduled.

The mass trials began with unruly hearings in late 2020, when defendants packed the municipal court complaining of missing names and not knowing what they were accused of. Four related and overlapping cases involving CNRP officials and supporters included 168 total defendants.

One of those cases, involving just nine senior party leaders, has already reached a verdict with Rainsy and other officials, all of whom are overseas, receiving jail sentences of 20 to 25 years.

Previous trial hearings debated the meanings of social media posts about “liberating our country from the dictator,” with judges questioning defendants about whom they might have meant by “dictator.”

Another hearing discussed a training workshop held in Malaysia months ahead of Rainsy’s planned return, as some defendants said they couldn’t remember what it was about. Prosecutors raised the appearances of top CNRP officials at the workshop and slides about Hong Kong demonstrations.

Chin Malin said the trial was processed according to the law guidelines from the justice ministry “aiming to solve that pileup of cases and lead to the reduction of the overcrowding in prison.”

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