Political commentator Kim Sok sat through his trial on defamation and incitement charges at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday with paper stuck in his ears, in protest over a case he dismissed as a political farce from the start.
Mr. Sok was arrested and charged in February for allegedly using a Radio Free Asia interview to link the ruling CPP to the July 2016 assassination of popular political analyst and critic Kem Ley.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, who denies having any part in the murder, filed the complaint that asks for more than $500,000 in compensation.
Before Wednesday’s trial even began, Mr. Sok’s lawyer, Chuong Choungy, and Mr. Hun Sen’s lawyer, Ky Tech, spent an hour arguing over Mr. Sok’s request that the prime minister—who was absent—attend the trial himself.
“If there is no plaintiff, let’s convict me and send me to prison,” Mr. Sok said mockingly.
Mr. Tech retorted, using the prime minister’s honorific, “Do you want Samdech to stand in the dock like Kim Sok?”
Judge Ky Rithy finally decided there was no need for Mr. Hun Sen to present himself, appearing to suggest that his party position exempted him.
“The plaintiff is Samdech Akka Moha Sena Padei Techo Hun Sen and president of the Cambodian People’s Party,” the judge said, employing the premier’s full title. “So it is enough for the lawyer to attend.”
At that point Mr. Sok demanded that the judge be replaced and the trial be postponed until the court issued a public statement announcing its decision to exempt Mr. Hun Sen from attending and provided a full explanation.
Judge Rithy rejected that request as well, at which point the defendant’s lawyer walked out of the courtroom in protest.
“I request to not join the hearing because my client’s explanation of the summons of the plaintiff was interrupted, and it looks so messy,” Mr. Choungy said before leaving.
After a brief break, the trial commenced as Mr. Sok tore up a piece of paper in front of him and stuck the pieces in his ears. He remained that way throughout the hearing, even as the court watched and listened to a video of his radio interview.
“Listening to the video clip, the sound is really his voice, so he committed the crime using the broadcast,” deputy prosecutor Sieng Sok said.
The prime minister’s lawyer also argued that Mr. Sok’s walk from Wat Chas to the municipal court on the day of his arrest, along with a crowd of supporters, was proof enough of incitement, a charge that carries a prison sentence of up to two years.
“We see that Kim Sok walked to the Phnom Penh court while many people gathered in front of the court, so this was incitement that could have led to public chaos. However, there were enough authorities to keep public order and prevent the crime,” he said.
While leaving the courthouse on his way back to prison, Mr. Sok remained defiant.
“This is an artificial trial to favor Mr. Hun Sen,” he said. “The court takes action following Hun Sen’s hellish saliva.”
The judge said the verdict would be announced on August 10.