The trial of six men charged with planning a series of bombings at last year’s Water Festival in Phnom Penh concluded Wednesday, with the defense claiming that the state had provided no evidence linking the men to the alleged plot.
After four hours of proceedings, Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Kim Ravy told the courtroom that he would announce the verdict next week.
The six men—Neang Song, Som Soth, Pov Sam An, Saing Bunly, Chan Rith and Luos Vanthan—were arrested in four provinces beginning Oct 29, 2006 and charged with violating the 1992 antiterrorism law. Those found guilty of breaching that law can receive life sentences.
The prosecution revealed little about the details of the alleged plot during the hearing, while the defendants reiterated claims that their confessions to police had been extracted under torture and intimidation.
The few details that were revealed in court about the alleged bomb plot and the men’s alleged confessions to police were surprising.
At the request of Deputy Prosecutor Hing Bunchea, Judge Kim Ravy order a court clerk to read out an intelligence report by Interior Ministry Central Information Department Director Chhay Sinarith to National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy.
According to the report, the arrest of the defendants was sparked by the confession of a man named Long Lam to the Siem Reap police Oct 24, 2006.
According to the report, defendant Som Soth had ordered Long Lam to be ready to attack the Water Festival with grenades. No other information regarding Long Lam, who did not appear in court, was given in the report.
The intelligence report also claimed that the alleged terrorist group had been active since 2005 and was led by an unidentified US national based in Thailand with ties to the outlawed Cambodian Freedom Fighters.
So Dara, attorney for defendants Luos Vanthan and Chan Rith, questioned the very existence of Long Lam. So Dara said that Long Lam’s supposed confession was insufficient in and of itself to bring charges against his clients. “Maybe Long Lam is fake or a ghost,” he said.
Teang Vuthea, attorney for the remaining defendants, also slammed the court for not providing any evidence outside of the sketchy intelligence report and the confessions, which he said were illegally extracted.
“This [case] is not based on the evidence, it is based on a report which claims to be evidence but is not believable,” Teang Vuthea said.
“Who are the witnesses that pointed to the terrorist acts?” he asked.
The defense attorneys also pressed for the state to provide a motive for the alleged attack plot, claiming that their clients were far too poor to carry out such an operation.
Showing the court a picture of Som Soth’s family and small, wooden home in Svay Rieng province, Teang Vuthea said simply: “What would they commit these terrorist acts for?”
Kim Ravy asked Som Soth during the trial if it was true that he had been offered the post of Svay Rieng provincial police chief for his role in the alleged plot.
Som Soth denied that he was involved in any plot or had been offered any such position were it carried out.
“I would like to swear: I didn’t know anything,” Som Soth told the court, adding that police had forced him to confess.
“When they questioned me, [the police] pressed my head to the table and kicked me,” he alleged.
Men Sam An, chief of the Interior Ministry’s anti-terrorism bureau, told the court that police had not tortured or intimidated any of the defendants.