The Kandal Provincial Court on Tuesday tried two opposition CNRP officials and their lawyer—two of them in absentia—over a case dating back to 2011 that was abruptly scheduled a week ago.
Chan Cheng, who was elected last year as a CNRP National Assembly member from Kandal province and lawyer Chuong Choungy, who often defends opposition officials in court, were summonsed on July 15 over accusations that they helped Kien Svay district councilor Meas Peng escape from prison.
Only Mr. Peng was in attendance Tuesday, while the other two, who had requested a delay, were tried in absentia.
In a trial that lasted less than an hour, Judge Kim Meng questioned the defendant about his alleged escape, he said.
“I told the court that I did not escape but I walked out of the prison cell because the guard did not stop me. I am not wrong and they had no warrant to detain me at the time,” Mr. Peng said.
In September 2011, Mr. Peng left Kandal prison with the assistance of his lawyer, Mr. Choungy, and Mr. Cheng. Mr. Peng had been charged in March with inciting villagers to carry out a violent protest against a property owner with whom they were in a land dispute.
Mr. Peng said he told the court that he was arrested in September in conjunction with the charges, but that the court had never issued a detention warrant and that the prison guards permitted him to leave when Mr. Choungy pointed out that he was illegally detained.
“The court charged me with escape, but it is not true. My defense lawyer asked to take me out of the prison cell because there was no warrant to detain me,” he said.
Mr. Choungy declined to comment, saying he had asked his own lawyer to request a delay as he had other clients to represent Tuesday.
“My defense lawyer sent the court a request to delay, but I don’t know if the court accepted it,” he said.
His lawyer, Put Theavy, said he was unclear why the court refused to delay the hearing.
“We will be appealing against the court decision,” he said.
If found guilty, the group could face between one and five years in prison on charges of escape, aiding a prisoner escape, and providing the means for a prisoner to escape.
Court president Hok Vanthina defended the court’s decision to hold the hastily scheduled hearing, in spite of the delay requests.
“Whether there is a hearing or delay is up to the judge who is in charge of the case,” he said.