Fourteen defendants — at least 12 of them linked to the banned CNRP — were convicted by a Tbong Khmum court on Friday for alleged incitement, with their families saying the $500 to $1,000 fines imposed are too big a cost for their indebted households.
The court convicted the 14 people on Friday, said Tbong Khmum court spokesperson Theng Cheang, sentencing each of them to one year in prison. However, they will pay different fines.
Two of the defendants, Vann Rith and Su Yean, were ordered to pay 4 million riel, or about $1,000, to the court, whereas 12 others — Mok Sam An, Proa Chanthoeun, Leap Sokpheng, Om Yeath, Sem Chamnan, Phon Sophal, Khlich Vy, Khon Ton, Nhim Thon, Taing Sophon, Thorn Ton and Su Yen — have to pay $500 fines.
Most of the defendants are supporters of the outlawed CNRP, including former councilors and local officials, and had prepared to attend a rally outside the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh to mark Paris Peace Agreements day in 2020. Two others are linked with land disputes in the province.
Families for the defendants expressed disappointment at the court’s verdict, and were worried about the hefty fines, which they said would burden their monthly finances.
If a defendant is unable to pay their fine, the court can extend their detention, according to the Criminal Procedure Code.
If they are unable to pay the fine, Rith and Yean will serve an additional three months, and the others will spend two additional months in detention.
Toek Soklorn, the wife of defendant Proa Chanthoeun, rejected that her husband had done anything wrong, questioning how his actions had incited people or harmed state resources.
The Tbong Khmum resident said the bills are piling up in her home. The family already has a loan of $15,000, for which they have to make $300 monthly repayments.
Additionally, she pays around $75 for her husband’s expenses in prison and to get him food, Soklorn said, and would likely be unable to get the needed money to pay the fine.
“It is very expensive and he keeps writing me letters asking for money,” she said. “I have tried to [borrow] money because I am afraid he will not have enough food.” Her husband also needs to pay for other expenses in the prison, she said.
This financial stress affects the families of many defendants. Puy Chanly, the wife of Mok Sam An, said she was paying around $100 a month to get her husband food and other necessary items in the prison.
Having to make repayments on a $23,000 loan her husband took to start a pepper farm, Chanly, who is a market vendor, said there was little opportunity to earn a living during Covid-19, after the local market was temporarily closed.
“I have not paid enough interest and my land title is with [the MFI]. We are living just to survive,” she said.