Relatives of CFF Suspects Despair of Justice

A Supreme Court judge said Friday he will issue a decision Nov 5 in the trial of 28 suspected members of the Cambodian Free­dom Fighters accused of taking part in an abortive rebellion last Nov 24.

Judge Sek Sethamony made that ruling after both sides in the terrorism trial spent about an hour completing summations they had begun on Thursday.

The defendants—many of whom looked thin and in poor health—then stood, one after the other, to make a final statement to the court. Virtually all said that they were poor men who had been tricked into taking part in the rebellion and pleaded to be allowed to return to their families.

Several wept as they described serious family problems that had developed while they were in prison. “Please, release me to see my sick wife,” begged Seam Yann, 46. “My mother got seriously sick too, because I have been in jail for a year.”

When defendant Duong Sop­heap stood to address the judge, his three-year-old son cried out, “Pa! Pa! Ma, there’s Pa! They’ve let him go!” The judge ordered Duong Sopheap’s wife, Tao Muy, 33, to take the boy outside, saying the court must not be disturbed.

Chin My, 60, dried her eyes with a faded red krama when her 20-year-old son, Mom Chey, burst into tears as he stood be­fore the court. “My husband and I are very old,” she said outside the courtroom. “I have nothing left to lose.

“My life is not important. If the court can release my son, the government can shoot me and my husband instead.”

Prosecuting Judge Nget Sarath said evidence had established “that these men are members of the CFF, and were not forced to join.” He said other CFF members had implicated the accused in the Nov 24 attack.

Defense lawyers, however, insisted the government had failed to prove their clients guilty, and pointed out that many had been in custody awaiting trial for nearly a year—well over the six-month limit set by law.

Ka Savuth, representing Duong Sopheap, said it wasn’t fair to convict alleged members of the CFF when the organization’s founder, Chhun Yasith, is living in freedom in Long Beach, in the US state of Cali­for­nia.

“The small follow the big,” he said. “If the big is still free, why are you trying the small?”

Outside the courtroom, Duong Sopheap’s mother, Chhom Sa­mei, raged against the government. Her son, a former customs official, struck a deal last March to testify against CFF members in return for immunity from prosecution.

Despite the deal with the government, she said her son was arrested last June and accused of being a CFF member himself.

“I have been cheated twice,” she said, weeping with anger. “Once by Chhun Yasith and Kiri Kim, and once by the government.”

She said he only knew Chhun Yasith and CFF commander Richard Kiri Kim, who have al­ready been convicted of leading the armed rebellion, because they were doing the “paperwork” to get her into the US.

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