Five of eight protesting lawyers returned to the courtroom Wednesday, two days after walking out in protest of a judge’s order barring reporters and relatives from watching the trial of 32 people charged with leading a failed uprising in the capital last November that killed at least eight people.
Liv Sovanna, one of the five Cambodian Defender’s Project lawyers, said the group returned because their clients’ rights were in danger.
“I came here to protect my client, but I have not decided yet whether I’ll stay here or not, because the judge has not responded to our proposal to restart the trial,” Liv Sovanna said.
CDP lawyer Chum Sovanny said his clients, accused of being members of the Cambodian Freedom Fighters, begged him to return. He said he did not abandon them.
“Just because we walked out does not mean we left them behind. What we did was demanding a public trial,” he said.
Municipal Court Judge Sok Setha Mony reversed his order barring spectators late Monday, after the CDP lawyers had walked out, but the lawyers did not return until Wednesday morning’s session, after the judge sent them a letter asking them to return.
Liv Sovanna said the CDP lawyers had lost a day questioning defendants, and therefore trial should begin anew.
Several of the attorneys, who have also accused the court of bias, said that they had only just met their clients Monday morning, on the first day of the trial.
The three attorneys who did not return to the court had been assigned to other cases in the provinces, the CDP lawyers said.
Also during Wednesday’s hearing, the third day of the trial, national police admitted that they had little evidence to arrest one of the defendants who proclaimed his innocence during his testimony.
Ministry of Interior police officers told Sok Setha Mony that their superiors ordered them to arrest Chey Vandy, 39, after finding his photo in a seized CFF computer.
The photo was a bust shot of Chey Vandy on a page full of photos, but police admitted it did not prove anything. However, police said that Chey Vandy and another defendant who has pleaded innocent, Sok Seang Ly, are “connected” with Salin, a suspected CFF fugitive.
The trial, which is being held in Phnom Penh’s Supreme Court to accommodate the larger public interest, became standing room only in the afternoon, when dozens of soldiers crowded into the room to hear the testimony of CFF’s self-confessed military commander, An Mao.
An Mao told the court that he did not regret leading the doomed raid. But he added that he felt betrayed by CFF leader Richard Kiri Kim, a Cambodian-American from the US state of Washington.
“After I knew that we had lost the battle, I contacted Kiri Kim and told him to leave. I told him if he did not leave and I saw him, I would shoot him dead,” An Mao said, during the longest testimony of the day, which was punctuated several times by laughter from the crowded gallery.
The trial concluded for the day around 5 pm. Thirteen defendants have been called in three days.
Other defendants include one woman, and two other Cambodian-Americans, Chun Yasith and Thom Saman, who are being tried in absentia.
The trial was to resume at 7:30 am today.
All defendants could face life in prison if convicted.