Trial Begins for Remaining Suspects in Last Year’s CFF Attack

The Phnom Penh Supreme Court is scheduled today to begin the trial of the remaining 28 suspected Cambodian Freedom Fighters accused of trying to topple the government in a failed Nov 24 coup. This comes despite objections from the defendants’ lawyers and human rights workers that the government has held the suspects unjustly and lacks evidence in the case.

The 28 suspects—26 of whom have been detained seven months past the time they legally should have gone to trial—are accused of terrorism and being members of an armed group under Article One and Article Three of Cambodian law, said Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak.

“The reason this case has taken so long is because the Ministry of Interior has been searching for full documents and evidence in order to make a strong case against these CFF members,” Khieu Sopheak said.

He said the government now has enough hard evidence to bring the men to trial. The evidence includes grenades, rifles and documents showing money transactions between the 28 suspected CFF members and Chhun Yasith, the self-confessed leader of the CFF who currently lives in Long Beach, in the US state of California, Khieu Sopheak said.

Lawyers for the defendants said the government has taken too long to bring the men to trial, and therefore the case should be dismissed.

According to Cambodian law, The government is only permitted to hold a suspect without trial for a maximum of six months. If the courts have not brought the suspect to trial, he or she must be released on bail, according to Article 14 and Provision 4 of the Untac penal code.

Sok Sam Ouen, executive director for the Cambodian Defenders Project, said the government should have brought at least the 26 suspects detained since November to trial in June, when 30 other suspected CFF members were tried for the Nov 24 attack. The CDP is representing 11 of the men to be tried today.

In June, the Phnom Penh Su­preme Court sentenced five of the men accused of leading the November attack to life in prison, including Cambodian-American Richard Kiri Kim, who confessed to leading the failed coup that left at least four dead. Another 25 suspects received sentences of three to 20 years.

Chhun Yasith and another suspect, Thong Samien, were tried in absentia and received life sentences.

Sok Sam Ouen said lawyers from the CDP have only met with their clients two or three times. He said lawyers are having difficulty interviewing their clients, who are being held in Prey Sar prison.

The Ministry of Interior has given only a single letter of permission to the CDP to see the CFF defendants, allowing only one lawyer at a time into Prey Sar to see CFF clients.

Kek Galabru, founder of the human rights group Licadho, said her NGO has not had any chance to speak to the CFF suspects, and she does not know if all of them have legal representation.

“From the human rights perspective, we wish to see all the legal procedures observed, and to have all the procedures transparent,” she said.

Chhun Yasith, who spoke by telephone from Long Beach, said the men on trial are members of the CFF, despite past reports that  many of the suspects tried were merely poor farmers who had no political agenda when they attacked in November.

“I feel responsible for my men,” he said. “That is why I am continuing this struggle. These men [scheduled to be tried today] will get put in prison, they will get tortured and they will suffer. But I feel what they feel. That is why I am continuing the fight.”

Chhun Yasith, who allegedly directed the November fighting from Thailand, said that he “hopes to liberate the men” if the courts find them guilty.


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