The Court of Appeal on Tuesday began hearing the appeal of six men sentenced to between 15 and 17 years jail in 2011 for forming an armed anti-government force called the Sovanna Phum, or Golden Village, in 2006.
The men‚ Chea Sarann, 51; Liv Soksovann, 51; Phlort Ry, 62; Chum Vichey, 44; Yom Hev, 43; and Port Phor, 48‚ were arrested in March 2011 and charged under Article 463 of the penal code for the creation of an illegal anti-government force.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court found the group guilty in December 2011 and sentenced Mr. Sarann, the leader, to 17 years in prison, and gave reduced 15-year sentences of to the rest of group.
At the hearing Tuesday, Mr. Sarann admitted that he had created the Sovanna Phum movement in 2006 while he was working as a security guard for the Sam Rainsy Party, but said that he had only done so after being promised $20 million by a man named Thab Thai.
“I have appealed because I was not satisfied with the very serious sentence, and I did not do anything wrong,” Mr. Sarann said, repeating his previous denials that the movement was intended to overthrow the government.
“I did not have any intent to topple the government because I did not have any weapons,” he said.
Mr. Ry, however, asked the court to acquit him on the grounds that he had been involved in a mix-up.
“I don’t know why I was sentenced,” he said. “I am just a spy for the government sent to investigate this movement.”
“Please judges, acquit me,” he pled.
Ly Rathy, the lawyer for Mr. Vichey, said that doctors had confirmed his client had become mentally ill after he fell from the Preah Vihear temple in 2006 and hit his head, and was then involved in a series of traffic accidents.
“There are doctors and four neighbors who clarified that my client is mentally ill,” he said. “Please judges, release him.”
Appeal Court prosecutor Im Sophan said he would only be pushing for the acquittal of Mr. Hev and Mr. Phor, who claimed to be farmers with no knowledge of the movement.
“The prosecutor thinks that Yom Hev and Port Phor were not involved in this case because since the beginning they have said they do not know anyone in this group,” he said.
Mr. Sarann, the leader of the movement, told the court that he had never met the two men before.
Presiding Judge Plang Samnang said that the verdict will be handed down on October 16.
Over the years, the government has publicly decried and prosecuted groups deemed a threat to national security. But with the exception of the Cambodian Freedom Fighter, which staged a bloody raid on CPP offices that killed eight people in 2000, none of them ever engaged in any violence.
Instead, many of them were caught committing acts of a far less violent nature such as distributing information critical of the administration of Prime Minister Hun Sen.