Families of suspected Cambodian Freedom fighters now on trial say the protracted detention of their sons and fathers has exacted a heavy toll, both mentally and financially.
Standing outside Cambodia’s Supreme Court during a break in the second day of trial for the 28 suspected members of the anti-government group, Tien Mei said she has sold her house and two oxen, and borrowed $450 to pay for transportation between Kompong Thom province and Phnom Penh, and to buy food for her son, Mon Chey.
“I have nothing left,” the crying woman said. “I am poorer than poor. I am poorer than if I had nothing.”
Both Tien Mei and Khe Kunthea, whose father is on trial with the other men, said many family members hoped to come to Phnom Penh for what is the only chance they will have had to see their relatives since the November fighting between the CFF and security forces. But most are too poor to make the trip, the women said.
The 10 suspects questioned by the courts Friday all gave similar testimony to the four interviewed Thursday; that in many cases they had been tricked by alleged CFF members in November to come to Phnom Penh with offers of construction jobs.
Once they arrived many realized they had been duped but were pressed at gun point into service on the night of the failed attack.
“They said if I did not take a weapon, I would be shot dead,” Sem Yien, 44, said.
During Friday’s testimony, six of the 10 men—all of whom have been charged with terrorism and membership in an illegal armed group—recanted earlier confessions that they are part of the US-based CFF, whose leader, Chhun Yasith, has vowed to overthrow the government.
As was the case in one testimony Thursday, the six men said military police beat confessions out of them shortly after their arrests.
When asked by Judge Sok Sethamony why they made the confessions, two of the men said they were afraid of more beating if they pleaded innocent during subsequent interviews in front of their lawyers.
“My answer was not true because the police kicked me, and I lied because I was afraid that [the police] would kick me again,” suspect Peov Chantha said.
Lawyers for the suspects have complained that their efforts to defend the men have been hampered by limited access to their clients.
But perhaps more damaging, according to lawyer Puth Theavy, who is defending 14 of the suspects, is that the men become easily confused under questioning from the court and their attorneys, often changing their stories.
“It’s very difficult to defend them because they are stupid and terrified, and they have no knowledge,” Puth Theavy said.
This second CFF trial—the first found 30 CFF members, including Chhun Yasith and Cambodian-American Richard Kiri Kim guilty as charged and sentenced them to long prison terms—is expected to last several more days.
The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee is urging the government to “implement the principles of democracy, rule of law, transparency and respect for human rights for all persons accused of crimes.”
“The CHRAC appeals to all authorities to fully respect legal procedure,” said a statement released by the group on Friday.