Courts Questioned, Sentenced More Than a Dozen CNRP Supporters This Week

6 min read
The CNRP’s former headquarters in Phnom Penh, on November 3, 2020. (Chorn Chanren/VOD)

At least a dozen CNRP supporters were questioned in the Kampong Cham Provincial Court this week over incitement allegations, while three former party officials were handed suspended sentences over forestry crimes in Pursat province, according to lawyers.

The proceedings come as 59 new summonses against former opposition members over plotting and incitement charges were made public on Tuesday, with many of those summoned living overseas.

The CNRP, the country’s main opposition party, was banned in 2017 following controversial treason allegations against its president Kem Sokha, and former party members — especially those who continue to show support — have been repeatedly brought to court.

In Kampong Cham, more than 30 CNRP supporters have been summoned for incitement in the past three months, said their lawyer, Sam Sokong.

Two to four of them have been questioned each day this week, Sokong said.

“They had gathered to eat bread and noodles to support the president Sam Rainsy and ask the government to keep the EBA and GSP,” Sokong said, referring to “Everything But Arms” and the generalized system of preferences, two low or zero tariff trade deals with the E.U. and U.S. respectively. 

Rainsy, the party’s co-founder and former president, is living in exile in France.

Last year, the CNRP tried to organize a Num Banh Chok Day to show support for the party by eating cold Khmer noodles en masse across the country. Prime Minister Hun Sen countered by ordering ruling party members to also eat the noodles on the same day and prevent the dish from becoming a political symbol.

The CNRP campaigned for the government to heed recommendations from the E.U. — including reinstating the opposition — in order to avoid trade sanctions. The EBA was partially suspended this year, while the U.S. has also considered a similar action under its GSP trade perks.

Sokong said the opposition activists were presented with Facebook photos of them gathering as evidence.

They have all been placed under court supervision and are not allowed to leave the country, the lawyer added.

Meanwhile, about 50 CNRP supporters have also been summoned in Battambang province, Sokong said.

“These summonses cause fear,” he said, arguing the cause was a political dispute between the two parties that should be resolved through political means rather than the courts.

One of those questioned in Kampong Cham on Thursday, Souy Sithat, said he was questioned about a gathering with about eight former CNRP members and some others. After the gathering, the opposition supporters made an online appeal for Hun Sen to uphold human rights and avoid the loss of the EBA, Sithat said.

Court officials told him not to worry about being detained or surveilled and to answer questions openly, he said. But he saw the questioning as a threat, he said.

“We don’t know whether the court will drop the charge against us or not yet,” Sithat said. “They want to prevent us from taking any actions or [forming a] movement — this is them scaring us.”

Kampong Cham provincial court administrator Chhorn Chandet said 16 people had been questioned this week in the case.

In a separate case, the Pursat Provincial Court on Wednesday handed down suspended jail sentences to three former CNRP officials accused of illegally encroaching on community forest land in Veal Veng district in 2015, said defense lawyer Lor Chunthy.

Chan Sophal, 62, Toun Sam Ath, 68, and Nem Nath, 40, were sentenced to five years in jail but would not be serving time, Chunthy said.

Last month, the lawyer said the case was unclear: “Some buy [land] from other people; some also cut down forest that has already been cleared because they do not have land.”

Updated at 3 p.m. with information from the Kampong Cham Provincial Court.

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