Police Asked About Facebook Investigative Methods in Opposition Mass Trial

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A truck carrying defendants from a CNRP mass trial leaves Phnom Penh Municipal Court on November 3, 2022. (Ouch Sony/VOD)

Defense lawyers demanded the judicial police identify where Facebook comments used as evidence were posted from, in order to show they were really made by defendants in an ongoing opposition mass trial.

During a CNRP-linked mass trial hearing, held at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday morning, two police officials stood up to defend their reports leading to the charge of plotting against nearly 40 people allegedly involved in an attempted return by party vice president Mu Sochua.

Pech Sotharath, deputy director of the National Police’s department of antiterrorism and cross-border crimes, recounted the origins of the case, and answered most of the questions during the hearing. The second official, Binn Sambathara, who holds the same position, did not speak much on Thursday.

After exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy failed to return to the country on November 9, 2019, the “outlaw rebel group” held an illegal committee meeting on November 27-29, 2020 planning another return attempt led by Sochua, Sotharath said.

The CNRP, once the country’s main opposition party, was banned in 2017. Many of its senior leaders now live abroad.

Sotharath said the ringleader, Rainsy, had already been convicted for plotting in relation to the first return attempt, and “attack” for an alleged coup attempt

Under questioning by the prosecution, Sotharath said the police investigation started with 10 senior CNRP officials who had posted inciting messages to provoke people to get angry with the government.

The police then extended their investigation leading to charges against 39 people, he said — however there are currently 37 people on trial, as one individual was granted bail and another’s case was sent to an investigating judge. 

“This was the second plan,” he said. “This group still holds it in their mind to overthrow the government. They just changed their scenario to be led by Mu Sochua.”

Sotharath added that in 2023, the group would attempt another return plan with human rights and democracy as a shield to hide their activity.

The police official then spoke about a Facebook account, “Voeung Samnang National Rescue Phnom Penh Capital,” whose posts were used to bring charges against defendant Voeung Samnang, who was extradited from Thailand last year.

He said police believed this was Samnang’s account as he had streamed live video of himself using it.

Defense lawyer Lor Chunthy asked Sotharath to clarify the location where this Facebook live was made.

“Based on the investigation, Voeung Samang is the one who directly controlled it, but for the technical issue, I cannot answer, only the technical team,” Sotharath replied.

Defense lawyer Nhor Nhen then questioned Sotharath about how he verifies that someone is the owner of a Facebook account.

He also asked about how they know where Facebook posts were made, and specifically asked the police official to identify the location where inculpatory comments were posted from.

“Before Voeung Samang was arrested in Thailand — can you clarify where the post came from?”

Sotharath said, “I can clarify that,” but again deferred to his technical team.

Presiding judge Ouk Rethkunthea said the trial was scheduled to hold another hearing on November 17 with the questioning of technical police officers.

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