For the third time in less than two months, the Court of Appeal yesterday postponed the hearing of opposition leader Sam Rainsy and two Svay Rieng province villagers convicted of illegally removing border posts last year.
Presiding Judge Khun Leang Meng said yesterday that Sam Sokong-the lawyer acting on behalf of the two villagers Prum Chea, 41, and Meas Srey, 40-had failed to apply in time to represent his clients in court, causing the hearing to be delayed for a third time.
“The court will reschedule the hearing…[but] has not set a date yet because the court has only just received the application document from the lawyer,” Judge Leang Meng said.
The appeal was previously delayed earlier this month after the two villagers complained to the court about a lawyer who had signed on to represent them while Mr Sokong was traveling abroad. At the time, Judge Leang Meng told the two villagers they must immediately ask Mr Sokong to apply to represent them at yesterday’s hearing.
Mr Sokong, who did not attend the hearing, said by telephone yesterday that he had been confused about when he was supposed to apply to the court. “There was confusion when the judge announced weeks ago that the prisoners should tell me to send the document,” he said, adding that he was of the belief that he only had to apply before yesterday.
Despite widespread media coverage of the hearing date, however, Mr Sokong said he failed to attend because he did not know that the appeal was due to take place.
Court of Appeal prosecutor Ngeth Sarath was critical of Mr Sokong’s late application to the court. “We told the prisoners to tell their lawyer to apply…as soon as possible before August 30, when the case was to be heard, but he did not apply until last Friday,” he said.
Yesterday’s hearing was originally scheduled to take place in July, but was postponed when Mr Sokong walked out of court upon learning that his clients had not been transported to court to testify from Svay Rieng Provincial Prison, where they are serving a one-year jail sentence.
Mr Chea and Ms Srey were convicted in January of taking part in the removal of six temporary border demarcation posts during a protest organized by Mr Rainsy at the Cambodia-Vietnam border in Svay Rieng province.
The two villagers-who were relocated to Kandal Provincial Prison earlier this month to be closer to the court in Phnom Penh-said they were upset by the ongoing delays after being transported to the court for yesterday’s scheduled hearing. Mr Chea said he wanted the appeal to be held as soon as possible because his health was deteriorating the longer he stayed in jail.
“I want the court to hear my case soon because I have been jailed seven months…. I do not know why the court delayed the hearing again,” he said.