The Court of Appeal on Tuesday agreed to consider separately two requests filed by 11 opposition CNRP figures convicted of insurrection last year for their involvement in a 2014 protest at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park.
Most of the defendants’ eight lawyers stayed away from the Phnom Penh Municipal Court court when it convicted their clients in July last year. The lawyers have since appealed the verdict and, separately, asked the Appeal Court to “nullify” the original verdict on the grounds that their absences made it unlawful.
Appeal Court Judge Plang Samnang on Tuesday agreed to divide the case into two appeals.
“In the 10 years that I have been a judge, I have never met a case like this,” he said.
The defendants are not necessarily off the hook if the Appeal Court does eventually decide to throw out the 2015 verdict, however. If it decides to nullify the verdict, it can still try the case as if it were the court of first instance—in this case the municipal court.
Even so, Choung Choungy, one of the defense lawyers, welcomed the decision.
“If the Appeal Court decides to nullify the decision of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, the municipal court’s verdict will dissolve, so according to the law, the defendants can be released on bail,” he said.
In an odd twist, however, Judge Samnang said only six of the 11 defendants had filed requests for the Appeal Court to nullify the original verdict. Mr. Choungy said all 11 had made the request and that he had no idea why only six had gone through.
If the official decision to split the cases still includes only six of the defendants when it arrives in writing in about a week, he said he would file a complaint with the Supreme Court.
The CNRP figures are serving prison sentences of between seven and 20 years for their role in a protest at the park that turned violent on July 15, 2014.