Trials will begin early next month of 58 suspects arrested for their alleged involvement in the destruction of the Thai Embassy and some Thai businesses in the January riots, court officials said Monday.
The trials were delayed by the April 23 killing of Judge Sok Sethamony, who was scheduled to preside over them. The trials also sparked controversy between King Norodom Sihanouk’s desire to see the suspects—mostly students—freed and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s insistence that they be tried. Other municipal court judges have been reluctant to take up the case since the judge’s execution-style killing, the court officials said.
However, Judge Tan Senarong, who was recently transferred from Siem Reap Provincial Court to Phnom Penh, has now been selected for the job.
“This is a very complicated case,” Tan Senarong said. “The documents are piled almost a half-a-meter high.”
Twenty-one suspects have been released on bail pending trial, while 37 others remain in Prey Sar prison.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court Prosecutor Sok Roeun will act as prosecutor in the trial that is expected to take at least 10 days, Tan Senarong said.
The King, student groups and the Sam Rainsy Party have all called for the release of the riot suspects, claiming they were not the masterminds behind what was widely considered an orchestrated event.
A request by King Sihanouk for clemency was rejected by Hun Sen, who said the fates of the suspects were up to the courts. However, the King made it clear that he intended to circumvent such a refusal through the use of his constitutional power of amnesty.
“If the King grants an amnesty [to convicted suspects], it is his right,” Tan Senarong said.
A second court official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said several other judges had refused to take on the case following the killing of Sok Sethamony.
“They have run for safety. They don’t want to try cases involved with politics,” the court official said.