Accused Terrorist, Activist Monk Back on Trial

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has rescheduled the trial of dissident-in-exile Sourn Serey Ratha for November 25 after postponing a hearing in September to let activist monk and co-defendant Luon Sovath make a planned trip abroad.

Both men are charged with incitement to commit a felony, plotting to commit an attack and disrupting last year’s national elections in connection with two events organized around the vote, one to hand out T-shirts urging people not to cast ballots and another to hand out flowers to soldiers in Phnom Penh. Police ultimately thwarted the plans.

Mr. Serey Ratha admits to organizing both attempts from abroad, but denies that either act constituted a crime. Luon Sovath says he met Mr. Serey Ratha once in the U.S., but denies playing any role in his plans or his group, the Khmer People Power Movement.

Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Meas Chanpiseth said the trial has been set for November 25. He declined to comment further.

Mr. Serey Ratha is refusing to attend his hearings, claiming the country’s courts are too corrupt to offer him a fair trial. He issued a statement Tuesday reaffirming his intention to remain abroad.

His lawyer, Sok Sam Oeun, said he would be representing his client at the hearing but was equally doubtful that Mr. Serey Ratha would receive a fair trial.

“I don’t think the judge can acquit them,” he said. “I do not trust the judge can make the decision freely.”

Luon Sovath said he also planned to attend the hearing.

“I know the court charged me wrongly, but I have to go to tell them I did nothing wrong,” he said.

In September, Mr. Serey Ratha himself denied that the monk had anything to do with his efforts to hand out T-shirts and flowers. But he said he had sponsored Luon Sovath’s visit to the U.S. in 2011 and helped raise nearly $30,000 for the monk’s human rights work in Cambodia.

Luon Sovath on Tuesday denied any financial relationship with Mr. Serey Ratha.

“I never received any money from Sourn Serey Ratha, not even three cents,” he said. “I think the court’s decision to charge me is political and the court is taking orders from the government.”

Luon Sovath has repeatedly run afoul of Buddhist religious authorities for his advocacy on behalf of land evictees. Mr. Serey Ratha has been branded a terrorist by the government for seeking to inspire an Arab Spring-style uprising against Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The flowers Mr. Serey Ratha was hoping to have handed out to soldiers after the national elections were to be accompanied by stickers that read: “Turn your guns against the despot and sacrifice your life to protect the people who have the same Khmer blood because Cambodian troops and Cambodian people are Khmer and we have to protect each other.”

The government took the message as proof that Mr. Serey Ratha was hoping to enlist the military in a bloody coup. Mr. Serey Ratha said he only meant to inspire the soldiers to protect the people from the prime minister’s alleged abuses.

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