Just one of 13 summoned defendants was present at the fifth hearing in a trial involving more than 40 purported opposition supporters charged with plotting and incitement, as questioning again fell into a familiar pattern about links to the CNRP and overseas trainings.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday resumed the trial related to opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s attempted return to Cambodia in 2019, after which the government charged at least 138 people for conspiracy and incitement to assist in the return. Three other related cases have formed “mass trials” against the former opposition.
The panel of judges and prosecutors repeated prior lines of questioning, inquiring about a defendant’s links to Rainsy and the overseas Cambodia National Rescue Movement, participation in CNRP-linked trainings and if they incited people to welcome the former CNRP president in 2019.
Leng Seng Hong, 34, took the stand Tuesday morning and immediately disassociated himself from the CNRP, saying he had no links to the dissolved opposition party and worked for the Cambodia Confederation of Unions as a finance officer.
He knew about the CNRP’s dissolution and the subsequent formation of the CNRM overseas but had no association with the opposition’s activities.
“I knew that they created a movement overseas. I did not support it, and also did not pay attention,” he said, in response to a question from judge Im Vannak.
Deputy prosecutor Seng Heang asked whether Seng Hong had traveled overseas, and Seng Hong answered that he had been to Thailand from October 20 to 28, 2019, for trainings.
Presiding judge Ros Piseth pressed Seng Hong if he had been to a training at Bangkok’s Pratunam area to which the defendant said he participated in an International Labor Organization workshop with other unionists.
Seng Hong said he had been invited earlier in 2019 to a conference of 30 people in Malaysia by Khean Vises, who is also a defendant in the case. But he was skeptical of the meeting when he saw Rainsy’s presence.
“I saw the presence of Mr. Sam Rainsy and I thought that was an irregularity. I only stayed in the hotel room,” Seng Hong said.
Prosecutor Heang claimed the meeting was to learn Hong Kong-style protest strategies.
Judge Piseth pressed Seng Hong about the topic discussed at the Malaysia meeting, but Seng Hong said he stayed in his room and did not know what was discussed by the participants.
The judge then asked the court clerk to move onto another defendant, CNRP member Chea Chiv, whose testimony was read out. According to the testimony, Chiv was an executive committee member for Battambang province and was aware of the CNRP’s dissolution and Rainsy’s planned return. But he did not pay attention or participate in the planned welcome for Rainsy. He had stopped political activity after the dissolution of the CNRP — he is one of 118 CNRP members banned from politics.
The next hearing is scheduled for December 21.