Defense Silenced by Private Phone Evidence in Opposition Mass Trials

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Phnom Penh Municipal Court in December 2021. (Ananth Baliga/VOD)
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Transcripts of phone calls between a CNRP activist and his wife and among opposition supporters, in which they spoke of Covid-19 concerns including a potential government cover-up, featured in the penultimate hearing of a mass trial case at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

Municipal court judge Ros Piseth on Thursday resumed hearings in the trial of 21 CNRP leaders and supporters for incitement and plotting related to the formation of the Cambodia National Rescue Movement in 2018 and Covid-19 comments. It is part of a series of ongoing trials against more than 100 opposition supporters.

During the morning hearing, the court finished playing a video of CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy speaking about the creation of the rescue movement in the U.S., then moved onto transcripts of the phone conversations.

Thirteen of the defendants were present, as top opposition leaders in the case, including Rainsy, are abroad.

One of the conversations was between defendant Nhem Van and his wife on April 15, 2020. The transcript showed Van’s wife warning him of opposition supporters’ arrests as she spoke of a potential government cover-up of Covid-19 cases.

“They arrested another person in Prey Veng, and you should be careful not to go out and take any gifts for fear of being cheated. The son of the village chief in Romeas Haek has disappeared,” she said, according to the transcript. “In Siem Reap, up to 400 people were infected with Covid-19, but only 10 were recorded as infected, and in Bavet, Kampong Som, Koh Kong and such there were also cases.”

Another conversation was between two defendants, Ngin Kheang and Khuth Chrek, referring to Prime Minister Hun Sen kicking out journalists from a press conference early in the pandemic for wearing masks.

“When samdech goes to visit Covid-19 patients, will he wear a mask or not? Samdech loves to go in the opposite direction and be contrary to others,” said Kheang.

Chrek replied: “Samdech gambles with people’s lives.”

Defendants Yim Sareth and Hin Chhan also had a conversation recorded. “They will hand back the CNRP if we stay quiet temporarily. I will tell the others,” Chhan said.

Sareth had previously been coy about having discussed the CNRP together with Chhan.

Many of the defendants had previously been reticent when asked about the conversations in earlier hearings, and were silent when questioned by the judge on Thursday.

The defense also did not question the recording of private phone conversations.

The final trial hearing for concluding statements was set for February 24.

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