The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has added activist monk Luon Sovath to the list of accused in the sedition trial of Cambodian-American dissident Sourn Serey Ratha, whose hearing on charges of incitement and plotting to commit an attack begins September 18.
Mr. Serey Ratha, president of the U.S.-based Khmer People Power Movement (KPPM), was charged over a pair of incidents before and after last year’s national election.
Prior to the July poll, Mr. Serey Ratha printed T-shirts with slogans urging Cambodians not to vote. After the election, he attempted to organize the distribution of yellow roses to security forces posted throughout Phnom Penh, along with stickers urging them to “turn your guns against the despot.” He is currently living in the U.S.
Municipal court deputy prosecutor Meas Chanpiseth said Monday that Luon Sovath would be put on trial along with Mr. Serey Ratha.
“We also summoned him to be tried on September 18,” he said of the monk.
Asked why Luon Sovath had been summoned, Mr. Chanpiseth replied: “Because he is involved with this case,” declining to answer further questions.
Presiding Judge Chhun Heng declined to comment.
Mr. Serey Ratha’s lawyer, Sok Sam Oeun, who will be attending the trial on behalf of his client, said he would not be representing Luon Sovath—but had seen the monk’s summons.
“I saw the Phnom Penh Municipal Court summons calling the Venerable Luon Sovath to join the trial with Sourn Serey Ratha. He was charged with plotting [to commit an attack],” he said.
The crime carries a prison sentence of between five and 10 years.
Luon Sovath, a prominent human-rights campaigner, said he had not received the summons, but rejected the charge nevertheless.
“I cannot accept the charge because I never committed any crime like that,” he said, adding that if called to court, he would request that the trial be postponed because it conflicted with a religious event he was scheduled to attend in South Korea.
Luon Sovath, nicknamed the “multimedia monk,” is a regular presence at demonstrations, filming and photographing the events. He has been nominated for international human rights awards and has been honored by the humanitarian NGO Witness.org for his documentary work.
Although he met Mr. Serey Ratha once, in the U.S. in 2011, he said he was turned off by the dissident’s political ambition and talk of toppling the Cambodian government.
“I never supported Sourn Serey Ratha’s activities because his activities did not match my opinions,” Luon Sovath said. “I am a monk who wants to help the poor people and protect human rights, not to join any political party.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen has personally labeled the KPPM a terrorist organization bent on the armed overthrow of his government. In May last year, the national police posted photos to its website showing opposition lawmaker Son Chhay and independent radio station owner Mam Sonando meeting in the U.S. with Mr. Serey Ratha and other activists.
Mr. Serey Ratha himself claims he wants to inspire an Arab Spring-style uprising in Cambodia that would force the prime minister out of power, but has denied advocating the use of violence. He said the “turn your guns against the despot” stickers were intended to encourage police and soldiers to protect Cambodian civilians from Mr. Hun Sen, not to attack him.
In April, Mr. Serey Ratha announced that he planned to register the KPPM as a political party in Cambodia.