Opposition Mass Trial Reviews Announcement of ‘Rescue Movement’

3 min read
Supporters and relatives of opposition figures now included in a mass trial race after a prison transport vehicle after Thursday’s hearing as a security guard holds them back. (Ouch Sony)

A three-hour video from 2018 about the formal announcement in California of a Cambodian opposition movement was presented on Thursday as evidence of plotting and incitement in the ongoing mass trials against leaders and supporters of the dissolved opposition CNRP.

The day’s hearing involved 21 CNRP leaders and supporters charged with incitement, plotting and inciting military personnel to disorder in relation to the 2018 formation of the overseas Cambodia National Rescue Movement (CNRM). Critical comments made by former CNRP officials about the Covid-19 pandemic have also been raised during the trial, which has grouped the defendants together under the label of Case 887.

The case is overseen by Phnom Penh Municipal Court presiding judge Ros Piseth, who on Thursday watched about two hours of a video clip on the announcement of the CNRM on January 28, 2018, in the Californian city of Long Beach, a hub for the Cambodian diaspora in the U.S. About an hour of the video remains to be shown.

Party co-founder Sam Rainsy, as well as his wife Tioulong Saumura and lawmakers Ho Vann, Tok Vanchan and Nuth Romduol, appeared in the clip. The various speakers spoke of their regret at the dissolution of the CNRP in the previous year.

Sia Phearum, at the time the director of the Housing Rights Task Force, recalled his experiences for more than a decade in dealing with land evictions that he considered criminal, including authorities forcibly recolating Phnom Penh’s Dey Krahorm community starting at 2 a.m. in January 2009.

Phearum said he had fled to the U.S. after the Interior Ministry put his organization on a blacklist. He could have faced 15-30 years in jail much the same as the CNRP’s other co-founder, Kem Sokha, who was arrested in 2017 on charges of treason.

“On Facebook, there is only the promotion of perfume, clothes. If anyone dares to criticize the government, [they] will be arrested,” he said. “Just say enforcement isn’t good and services aren’t good, [they] will be arrested.”

In the same video, CNRP vice president Eng Chhai Eang said the arrest of Sokha in 2017 was the worst political event in Cambodia since the 1993 ostensible restoration of democracy. Sokha had the support of half of the country’s people, Chhai Eang said.

The meeting came ahead of the 2018 national election, and Chhai Eang urged people to work together to restore the CNRP before the vote. The ruling CPP would go on to win every seat in the National Assembly a few months later without a viable challenger.

“Mr. Hun Sen, who was one among competitors, changed everything as he wanted and asked other competitors to follow him. If they do not follow, they will be jailed.”

Outside the court on Thursday, family members of jailed defendants in the trial held up banners reading “Justice must be achieved for patriots” while chanting, “release, release!”

A small clash with security personnel ensued, as around a dozen officers were seen grabbing the banner from the women. They failed in their first attempt but tried again a few minutes later, successfully confiscating the banner.

So Ith, 58, the wife of Long Phary, a former councilor in Prey Veng province’s Kampong Trabek district, said her husband was innocent and unfairly charged.

Another woman, Phan Sath, 39, said security officers were suppressing their right to protest peacefully.

“They violate human rights and women rights,” she said.

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