Six defendants who were arrested for protesting outside the Chinese Embassy on Paris Peace Agreements Day in October, as well as two others at large, faced trial on Monday for incitement at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
The defendants, who have connections to the outlawed opposition CNRP, were part of a protest to hand petitions to the embassies of China, France and the U.S. on October 23, said their lawyer, Sam Sokong.
The Paris Peace Agreements of 1991, signed by Cambodia and 18 other countries, ended years of war in the country and attempted to instate multiparty elections.
The three-hour trial hearing on Monday saw four of the defendants questioned about who had ordered them to protest, Sokong said. They replied that they had come voluntarily, on their own expense, according to the lawyer.
“In the case file, we do not see any evidence beside their answers and their answer is that they came to protest in front of the Chinese embassy to exercise their freedom of expression,” he said.
Family members waited outside the courthouse due to strict registration requirements at the courts amid Covid-19.
Among the defendants at large is former CNRP lawmaker Ho Vann, whom Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened three days after the protest as allegedly financing the campaign.
“Hopefully, [his wife] Her Excellency Ho Vann does not act as a distributor of money to the local rebels, frankly speaking,” Hun Sen said at the time, in an apparent threat to his family.
The protest at the Chinese Embassy was small, with only about a dozen participants, but faced a stern crackdown as authorities arrested protesters and harassed journalists.
The four defendants questioned on Monday were Kandal resident Yoy Sreymom; former commune councilors Lim San and Ton Nimol; and party activist Pai Ren. The others in the case are An Hong, Sat Pha and San Seihak, who is at large.
Municipal court spokesperson Y Rin said the date of the trial’s next hearing had yet to be set.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager at human rights group Licadho, said the trial was a violation of basic freedoms guaranteed under the Constitution.