The Municipal Court trial of 32 terrorism suspects accused of storming Phnom Penh Nov 24 in a failed attempt to topple the government drew criticism Wednesday from human rights monitors who called the proceedings unfair and a violation of Cambodian law.
A joint statement from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said Judge Sok Setha Mony failed to protect the defendants’ legal rights throughout the seven-day trial, which ended Wednesday.
“No one questions the need to bring suspected criminals to justice, but even the most basic safeguards for the rights of defendants have been absent from these proceedings,” the statement said.
The offenses ranged from illegal detentions of the suspects to unfair treatment of their lawyers and families, the rights groups said.
The trial ended with closing remarks from the attorneys and final pleas from the suspects to be returned to their homes. Sok Setha Mony adjourned the day’s proceedings at 10:30 am to prepare verdicts.
“Since this case is big and involves many accused, we will need plenty of time to consider [the testimony],” he said.
He said he would deliver the verdicts Friday morning.
Cambodian-American Richard Kiri-Kim, 51, who has publicly admitted to playing a leading role in the failed coup, defended himself in his final statement to the court.
“Everything I have done is for the sake of my nation,” he said. Kiri-Kim, one of three Cambodian-Americans charged with leading the anti-government Cambodian Freedom Fighters, asked to be released so he can return to his family and “rebuild my nation.”
Two Cambodian-Americans who live in the US, Chhun Yasith and Thong Samien, were tried in absentia for their roles as co-leaders of the CFF.
The trial was beset by legal problems from its beginning on June 11. Journalists and human rights monitors were denied access to the morning session on the first day of the trial. Several defense lawyers walked out of the courtroom to protest what they said was a flawed trial guarded by intimidating soldiers and muzzled police attack dogs.
The suspects’ family members were not allowed to sit in the courtroom for any portion of the trial. Suspects turned on their benches to look at spouses and children who stood clustered near the courtroom’s first-floor windows.
Most of the suspects were detained for more than six months before the start of the trial, a violation of Cambodian law.
Deputy Prosecutor Nget Sareth defended the court and the police, saying the government required more than six months to prepare because of the complexity of the case.
He acknowledged that the government made mistakes as it hunted the CFF, but he refused to comment further.
Put Theavy, a private lawyer for 10 of the suspects—some of whom were abandoned by their original lawyers at the trial’s start—said in response that the court should not make light of the mistakes. He said one of the suspects, a monk, was arrested and stripped of his robe by police, a violation of Buddhist rules for handling a monk suspected in a crime.
Put Theavy also claimed some of his clients were either tricked into joining the CFF or were not present on the night of the attack.
“Some of the accused don’t know anything,” he said.
Sok Setha Mony said more trials of suspected CFF members may occur as police continue their investigation of the US-based group, which has claimed responsibility for the assault on several Phnom Penh government buildings that left at least eight dead and a dozen wounded.
The session ended with pleas from the accused for fair treatment.
Bun Chanto, a reporter for the Royal Khmer Youth newspaper in Pailin and a former Khmer Rouge soldier, said he joined the CFF but didn’t take part in the raid.
“I promise if there will be any new evidence which proves that I am involved in CFF again, let 400,000 people in Pailin and 3,000 soldiers there keep track of me. If I do so, then put me on trial,” he said.
Suspects Un Srey, the lone female defendant, and An Mao, the CFF’s confessed military leader and a former Khmer Rouge soldier, asked to be returned to their families.
Seng Narin, who before his arrest was deputy commander of RCAF’s military Region 5 near Pailin, told the court he might die soon if sent to prison.
“I request you to release me to let me meet my wife and children. I don’t have good health. I have tetanus, and I have regular convulsions two or three times a month. If I stay in prison I will die.”
Kiri-Kim, speaking to a reporter as he was led from the courtroom, said the prosecution was a sham.
“The jurist system in Cambodia, they do anything the leader says,” he said, referring to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
If convicted, the suspects could face life terms in prison.