After 2nd Adjournment, Speedy Trial for 23 Protesters Unlikely

On Tuesday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court adjourned proceedings in the case of the 25 protesters arrested during the garment sector strikes that broke out in the capital late last year.

The two young men arrested in clashes with police near the Stung Meanchey Bridge in November and charged with intentional violence and property destruction were told to expect a verdict on May 30.

For the 23 beaten and arrested by soldiers and military police in January, however, a speedy trial is proving more difficult.

The court on Tuesday said it would only continue to hear their case after two weeks—on May 20—having previously pushed the case forward 11 days after opening proceedings on April 25.

“According to our monitoring of many cases over the years, it is a strange case that the court is doing this,” said Ny Chakrya, who has been covering the trial as the head of monitoring at local rights group Adhoc.

Mr. Chakrya noted the absence of inculpatory evidence being presented before the court in the two hearings for the 23 prisoners so far.

“By delaying, the court wants to find other strategies or procedures to collect evidence to inculpate the defendants, as I have observed it has no evidence to inculpate the defendants besides a few photos,” Mr. Chakrya said.

Sok Sam Oeun, a lawyer who heads Cambodian Defenders Project, a legal aid NGO, said a speedy trial for the prisoners had first appeared likely.

“I think the first hearing came fast. I have clients in Banteay Meanchey province who have been waiting a year for a trial,” Mr. Sam Oeun said.

“But it is strange,” Mr. Sam Oeun added of the long adjournments since. “It’s hard to say why this happened after the opening was fast.”

Phnom Penh Municipal Court director Ang Mealatey and Judge Leang Samnath, who is in charge of hearings for 13 of 23 prisoners, declined to comment on the reason for the delays.

The court’s deputy court director, Kor Vandy, suggested that the delays may stem from a large number of cases waiting to be heard.

“Perhaps the judges have delayed this case based on their timetables for hearings,” Mr. Vandy said, declining to elaborate.

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor at rights group Licadho, said the delays were all the more problematic given the government’s tight control over the judiciary and the prisoners’ links to mass anti-government protests last year.

“The judge…has only made accusatory questioning of the defendants so far. So it seems this case is concluded already,” Mr. Sam Ath said.

(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)

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