The Court of Appeal on Wednesday delayed a hearing for 11 defendants—government critics and former opposition CNRP members—seeking to nullify their 2015 convictions for insurrection after the case’s 41 plaintiffs failed to turn up.
The defendants were found guilty for their involvement in a July 2014 protest at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park that turned violent. They argue their convictions should be invalidated because their lawyers were not present during the original ruling.
During nearly an hour of discussion at an open hearing on Wednesday, five lawyers representing the defendants asked the judge to invite the 41 plaintiffs—most of whom belong to Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district security team—to join the court procedure.
Presiding Judge Plang Samnang, however, said the plaintiffs had the right not to come.
“We can’t force the rights,” he said.
However, one of the four lawyers, Sam Sokong, who routinely represents CNRP members, responded that the judge’s decision highlighted a double standard, referring to a case involving CNRP President Kem Sokha.
“The plaintiff can be the witness. Why can’t the court force them, like [they did to] His Excellency Kem Sokha when he refused to show up?” he asked.
“It’s important that the plaintiff shows up—there will be more details of the case.”
The hearing was delayed until an undecided future date.
As the 11 defendants were escorted back to the prison vans, Meach Sovannara, former head of the CNRP’s information department who is serving a 20-year sentence for his involvement in the protest, said they would wait until the plaintiffs appeared at the hearings.
The case stems from a protracted fight over public access to Freedom Park, a common gathering space for opposition members and labor activists that officials had closed off and encircled with razor wire in 2014.
Months of clashes over the park, during which security guards repeatedly beat protesters, culminated in a July 2014 rally that saw demonstrators pummel Daun Penh district security guards.