Ex-CNRP Jailed for 5 Years for Plotting; Six Others Summoned to Trial

6 min read
CNRP leaders Sam Rainsy and Ho Vann (third and second from the right) raise nine fingers along with other CNRP supporters in the U.S. on September 23, 2019 (CNRP activist’s Facebook page)

Ex-CNRP members in two provinces were jailed or summoned to trial over old charges of incitement and plotting, with authorities relitigating cases related to party founder Sam Rainsy’s failed promise to return to the country last year and other campaigns promoted by party leaders living in exile abroad.

The latest cases follow 28 former opposition members summoned last month for questioning in Kampong Cham province.

Ex-CNRP member Pen Mom was sentenced and jailed in Kampot province on Wednesday, while Sim Seangleng, Mean La, Yem Vanneth, Kong Sam An, Van Sophat, Choem Vannak and Chok Hour were summoned to appear at the Tbong Khmum Provincial Court on Friday, according to police and the courts.

Mom, former Kandorl commune executive committee vice chair in Kampot, was arrested for plotting on October 12 last year as Rainsy drummed up support for his promised return. More than 100 ex-CNRP members were charged with plotting and incitement at the time.

Kampot Provincial Court spokesperson Mann Boret said on Wednesday that Mom had been sentenced to five years in jail and sent to the provincial prison. Lawyer Sam Sokong said she had been sentenced in the morning after a trial last month.

Meanwhile, Sam An, one of the six summoned in Tbong Khmum, was arrested on Monday, National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun said. Two of the others were overseas, the remaining defendants told VOD.

“This case happened a long time ago, in 2018 when there was not such a strict ban,” Sophat said. “Why is the court bringing this old case for prosecution now? This is an injustice and I hope the court will drop the charges because we have not been involved with the party.”

In 2018, the ex-party members participated in a video highlighting that the E.U. was considering suspending trade benefits with Cambodia over human rights concerns, they said.

A court summons for Vanneth, 27, orders him to participate in a trial for plotting “committed on Facebook in late 2018 and continuing until October 2019.”

The CNRP was dissolved by Supreme Court order in 2017, leading the ruling CPP to win every seat in the National Assembly in the 2018 national election. The E.U. criticized the CNRP’s dissolution and subsequent vote, and after a yearlong review partially rescinded the “Everything But Arms” trade deal this year citing “serious and systematic violations” of human rights.

Hour said the local opposition activists had abandoned politics as a result of the repeated court actions.

“They have tried to persecute us … and tried to prevent us from any future gathering,” he said, “leaving us feeling intimidated.”

Sokong, the lawyer, said the government was revisiting cases related to activists’ support for Rainsy, including joining a “clean fingers” campaign in 2018 advocating for an election boycott, as well as last year’s “noodle campaign” where former CNRP supporters planned to eat cold Khmer noodles, or num banh chok, en masse as a symbol of protest.

“They were charged with plotting and incitement related to their support of Mr. Sam Rainsy,” Sokong said.

Hak Seaklim, a spokesperson for prosecutors at the Tbong Khmum Provincial Court, confirmed the upcoming trial for the six defendants but declined to elaborate.

La, Seangleng and Vanneth were charged with plotting on October 6 last year, according to VOD records.

Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin said the recent summonses and jailings were just court procedures following their natural course.

“Some cases the court handles quickly, while some cases take time and the investigation process is involved,” Malin said. “When they have strong and clear grounds, they take action.”

In Kampong Cham, former CNRP commune chief Soy Sinthat was due to be questioned on Wednesday following a court summons issued last month. The questioning was delayed as the 28 defendants awaited trial, Sokong, the lawyer, said.

Sinthat said he had been imprisoned from October 22 to November 15 last year amid Rainsy’s promised return — but said he had never voiced or posted support, or undertaken political activities since the CNRP was disbanded.

“I just stayed at home and haven’t been involved since [the party] was dissolved. I just stayed at home,” Sinthat repeated. “I was never involved in any plot.”

The former doctor said he now just helped his children sell coffee at his house.

“I was elected by the people and now [the party] has been dissolved, so I can be an ordinary person. And that’s OK,” he said.

When he was released from jail last year, he was ordered to agree to three conditions, he said: don’t leave the country, don’t join any political gatherings, and show up whenever summoned by authorities.

He had complied, and after the previous imprisonment and court actions he did not feel much about the latest summons, he said.

A CPP military official and CNRP defectors had asked him to join the ruling party several times, but he had refused, he said. That could be why he was still being targeted, he said.

“We don’t know what to be afraid of because we didn’t do anything wrong,” Sinthat said. “[I’ve] become accustomed to it. I’ve stopped thinking about anything.”

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