The Appeal Court on Thursday upheld convictions of incitement, plotting an attack and obstructing elections against self-exiled dissident Sourn Serey Ratha, whose Khmer People Power Movement (KPPM) has been labeled a terrorist group by the government despite paltry evidence.
It also upheld convictions of plotting an attack and obstructing elections against three of his accomplices—Seng Sok Meng, Serey Bunlong and Um Phearun—who were arrested for distributing KPPM T-shirts.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court handed down the original verdicts in January and sentenced Mr. Serey Ratha, who lives mostly in the U.S., in absentia to seven years in jail, Mr. Bunlong and Mr. Sok Meng to six, and Mr. Phearun to five.
“The Appeal Court thinks that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s verdict is correct,” Presiding Judge Pak Chansambor said Thursday.
“The Appeal Court thinks that the answers of the defendants at the Court of Appeal are just excuses, because they did not have evidence or any witnesses,” he added.
Mr. Serey Ratha’s three accomplices, however, who were all in court Thursday, maintained their innocence.
The trio was arrested in Battambang province in 2013 for distributing T-shirts emblazoned with a message urging people to abstain from that year’s national election, along with other paraphernalia bearing the KPPM logo.
“I appealed because the Phnom Penh Municipal Court decision to sentence me to six years in jail is not justice for me,” Mr. Bunlong said. “I just distributed T-shirts, radios and watches to the people.”
During their initial trial, Mr. Bunlong and Mr. Sok Meng admitted to transporting packages of KPPM goods but said they had no idea what the parcels contained and denied being part of Mr. Serey Ratha’s group. Mr. Phearun denied delivering any of the packages or being part of the KPPM.
Mr. Serey Ratha was also convicted of incitement for attempting—soon after the election was over—to have 1,000 yellow roses handed out to police and soldiers posted around Phnom Penh along with stickers urging them to “turn your guns against the despot,” a reference to Prime Minister Hun Sen. Mr. Serey Ratha says he was not asking the police and soldiers to attack Mr. Hun Sen, but to protect the people from the prime minister’s abuse of power.
At Thursday’s hearing, prosecutor Im Sophan urged the judges to uphold the verdicts but asked for leniency for Mr. Sok Meng because of his low level of education.
Sok Sam Oeun, the lawyer for all four defendants, tried convincing the judges that there was not enough evidence to prove that anything his clients did constituted a crime, noting that agreeing with someone’s political opinions was not illegal.
“The court charged them with plotting, but the act did not occur,” he said. “If they support someone’s political ideas, they are not guilty.”
His efforts did nothing to sway the court, however.
Mr. Sam Oeun said he and his clients had yet to decide whether to appeal to the Supreme Court.