The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday wrapped up its three-day trial of self-exiled Cambodian Sourn Serey Ratha and three others accused of colluding to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, hearing hours of old statements from the dissident.
Mr. Serey Ratha, president of the U.S.-based Khmer People Power Movement (KPPM), is charged with plotting an attack against the state and obstructing elections, and is being tried in absentia.
The other three defendants, all in custody, face the same charges as Mr. Serey Ratha for attempting to distribute KPPM T-shirts last year with a message urging people not to vote in the national election. After the vote, Mr. Serey Ratha attempted to organize the distribution of yellow roses to security forces in Phnom Penh, along with stickers urging them to “turn your guns against the despot.”
At Tuesday’s trial, a court clerk read out statements Mr. Serey Ratha allegedly delivered to supporters in the U.S. and France in 2012 and 2013.
“Hun Sen’s government is a communist government that was installed by the Yuon government in Hanoi and is a puppet government of the Yuon,” one statement says, employing a term for Vietnamese widely considered a pejorative, before going on to call for the prime minister’s overthrow.
Other statements put Mr. Serey Ratha in a better light, however, eschewing violence and endorsing constitutional rule.
Of the three men in detention, two admit to having been in possession of the KPPM T-shirts, but all deny knowingly taking part in any KPPM activities. Deputy municipal prosecutor Meas Chanpiseth on Tuesday urged the court to convict them all.
“Sourn Serey Ratha is the ringleader and his members acted against the government to overthrow the government,” he said.
The defendants’ lawyer, Sok Sam Oeun, argued that Mr. Serey Ratha’s words did not constitute a breach of any law and that, in any case, his three other clients should not be painted with the same brush.
“Please don’t use Sourn Serey Ratha’s statements to inculpate the other defendants,” he said. “Please, court, acquit the four men.”
If convicted, the four could face up to 10 years in jail. Presiding Judge Top Chhun Heng said the verdict would be announced on January 14.