Ex-CNRP Commune Chief Summoned to Incitement Trial in Kandal

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Another ex-CNRP official, this time from Kandal province, was summoned to an incitement trial this week at the provincial court, but the hearing was delayed as his lawyer was tied up with the ongoing mass trials in Phnom Penh.

Loeung Sarun, 53, a former opposition commune chief in Sa’ang district’s Toek Vil commune, was summoned to the Kandal Provincial Court on Tuesday — the same day that his lawyer, Sam Sokong, gave a closing statement in a trial against nine exiled senior CNRP leaders charged with an attack against the state.

More than 150 CNRP supporters and ex-officials are part of four separate but related trials being heard at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

Sarun said on Thursday that he had been surprised by the summons, served to him on January 24. He had not received any questioning from authorities beforehand, and, he said, he had not conducted any political activities with local supporters or contacted activists or even close friends.

The summons document says the incitement case is proceeding to a direct hearing based on prosecutors’ conclusions dated June 25. The alleged criminal activities took place from 2019 till now, it says.

Sarun was removed from his commune chief position when the main opposition CNRP was outlawed in 2017, a contentious Supreme Court decision that rights groups have criticized as political. The E.U. also cited a need to allow the re-establishment of a political opposition in announcing a partial withdrawal of trade preferences last year over alleged human rights violations.

In local-level elections in 2017, the CNRP won 65 percent of the vote in Sarun’s commune.

“I feel disappointed because I have never done anything, never participated in any activities at all,” Sarun said. “According to my understanding, it is politically motivated. They want to destroy and dig out the roots.”

He was previously elected a deputy commune chief in 2012 for the Human Rights Party — CNRP president Kem Sokha’s former party that merged with the Sam Rainsy Party to form the CNRP.

Sarun acknowledged that he had used Facebook to share news about forestry crimes, land disputes and other social issues, and sometimes commented on the posts.

“I am just a mirror, looking at whether the cases are true or not,” he said.

He said he did not know whether what he posted was right or wrong because he was just an ordinary person and not a legal expert, and what he shared were only his personal ideas.

“The authorities should thank me for helping to show and tell the cases,” he said, adding that he had never been warned over his posts.

Sarun said he would show up to court if summoned again, though he was scared. “I’m really worried, but we don’t know how to escape,” he said.

Acting commune police chief Van Bunlong said he had sent the summons to Sarun, but the former opposition official’s alleged criminal activities likely happened in the wider Phnom Penh area, including Kandal’s provincial capital Takhmao city. He wasn’t sure, as it was out of his jurisdiction, but Sarun was working as a tuk-tuk driver and frequently traveled to the area, Bunlong said.

“In Cambodia, everyone knows him, from Sa’ang district to Chak Angre Krom, Chak Angre Loeu, everyone knows him,” Bunlong said.

Local residents had cautioned Sarun about being too outspoken, he said, though he added that commune police had not questioned the former CNRP official.

Provincial court deputy prosecutor Ek Sunraksmey, who issued the summons, referred questions to court spokesperson Tin Sochetra, who did not reply. Court secretariat chief So Sarin said delays are generally the result of requests from involved parties, but did not have details for the case.

Most of the cases in Phnom Penh relate to CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy’s failed attempt to return to the country in November 2019, when he called on soldiers to turn their guns against Prime Minister Hun Sen, and over 100 people were charged with plotting and incitement for their alleged support.

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