The long-awaited trial of four alleged members of the militant group Jemaah Islamiyah was suspended Friday shortly after a lawyer stormed out of the proceedings because judges refused to read out the article of law under which his clients were charged.
Following a bizarre exchange in which presiding judge Ya Sakhon and prosecutor Yet Chakriya refused to read out the article of law, defense lawyer Kao Soupha left the courtroom in protest.
“I cannot accept the trial today because the court could not fulfill my small request,” Kao Soupha said afterwards.
Kao Soupha said his clients had been charged with international terrorism, but the article under which they were charged—Article 2 of the Law on Terrorism—pertained to kidnapping and illegal detention.
“The judge can only make a ruling based on what the prosecutor has charged the suspects with,” he said.
Soon after Kao Soupha walked out, prosecutor Yet Chakriya said the four suspects present in court, and one suspect being charged in absentia, intended to carry out an attack in Phnom Penh.
He then recharged the suspects—nine months after their arrest—with Article 3 of the terrorism law, which pertains to attempted murder.
Judge Ya Sakhon said the case was to be investigated again and closed the proceedings.
Om Yentieng, an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, told reporters outside the court that he was sure the suspects were guilty.
To critics of the investigation, Om Yentieng said: “Some people say the government does this to satisfy the US. It’s not true.”
Some have blasted the case on the grounds that no evidence exists linking the suspects to a crime, and little was produced in court on Friday.
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Frank Pellegrino gave a brief history of Jemaah Islamiyah and said the FBI received information that the group planned to attack the US and British Embassies in Phnom Penh.
Cambodian Cham Sman Ismael, questioned about his relationship with the terror suspects Hambali, Awang and Zaid, admitted that he was asked to obtain a Cambodian passport for Awang, his Malaysian brother-in-law. But he did not follow through with the request, he said, and denied any links to terrorism.
Indonesian Riduan Isamuddin, known as Hambali, the operations chief of Jemaah Islamiyah, lived in Cambodia in late 2002 and early 2003, intelligence reports say.
Intelligence officials believe that Hambali, and associates Ibrahim (aka Awang) and Zaid (aka Zubair) were trying to obtain fake passports and were also scouting Western targets in Cambodia.
Egyptian Esam Mohammed Khidr Ali, 40, said he had no links to terrorism and maintained he had never met Hambali.
Thai Muslim Muhammad Yalaludin Mading, 41, was questioned about calls on his mobile telephone from other terror suspects and about the contents of a bag that belonged to Zaid and reportedly contained a VCD which had instructions on the use of explosives.
Thai Muslim Abdul Azi Haji Chiming, 35, said he had watched the VCD, but only because its cover was for a movie.