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Court Admits Prosecution Evidence Despite Objections From The Defense

FILE: Front View of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on January 16, 2020. (Malis Tum/VOA Khmer)
FILE: Front View of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on January 16, 2020. (Malis Tum/VOA Khmer)

The council of judges spent all of Wednesday morning to hear arguments on whether the Criminal Procedures Code permitted the prosecution to submit new evidence during the trial, eventually agreeing with the prosecutors’ submission of seven new video clips.

The hearing resumed on Wednesday with Kem Sokha again not saying a single word in court, nor any evidence or arguments presented to prove his innocence or guilt in the treason case.

Entering its eighth week, the council of judges asked all parties to put forth their arguments for or against the prosecution’s ability to introduce new evidence during the trial. During the last hearing on February 27, the court had already spent three hours listening to the same arguments, without issuing a ruling on the matter.

The defense maintained that the prosecution was allowed to submit evidence only during the investigation phase of the case and not during the trial, whereas the prosecution and government lawyers have argued that evidence can be submitted by all parties at any time during the trial.

The defense on multiple occasions pointed to the closing order of the prosecution, issued at the end of the investigation period, which said there was enough evidence to find Kem Sokha guilty and recommended that the case proceed to trial.

“If the judge agrees to accept the new evidence, this shows that the existing evidence is not enough to find our client guilty,” said defense lawyer Ang Odom."

Another defense lawyer, Chan Chen, went further to call admission of the evidence as “illegal” and said it had never happened in legal proceedings since the 1960s.

In the last hearing, prosecutor Plang Sophal repeatedly said that the prosecution was allowed to submit evidence at any point in the trial. On Wednesday, he accused the defense of not knowing the law, even questioning Chan Chen’s qualifications or capabilities as a lawyer.

“You don’t have to lecture me,” he said, directing his comments at Chan Chen. “It doesn’t mean everyone who goes to law school is smart. Or that everyone gets the best grades.”

After 90 minutes of arguments and another 20 minutes of deliberation, presiding judge Kuy Sao said the council had accepted the new evidence, providing little explanation for the ruling.

The prosecution’s new evidence includes seven video clips, including speeches by Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha at Freedom Park during the post-2013 general elections protests. It also includes a video of protestors destroying the Ekreach Clinic on Veng Sreng boulevard, though the video doesn’t not feature Kem Sokha in any way.

The defense objected to another piece of evidence, a video of Kem Sokha speaking to minimum wage protestors near the Kizuna Bridge in Kampong Cham. They questioned its authenticity and complained that the voice of an unnamed narrator was overlapping with the opposition leader’s speech, making hard to distinguish the two.

Earlier in the hearing, Ang Odom questioned if the court and gallery were taking adequate precautions, in light of the novel coronavirus outbreak, complaining that many people were not wearing masks in court.

The council of judges said that it was important that people take their personal hygiene seriously, suggesting they wash their hands routinely and wear masks. Judge Kuy Sao added that the court would follow the directives of the government on how best to tackle the viral outbreak.

The World Health Organization has said that medical personnel or people taking care of an infected individual should wear masks, as well as people who are sneezing and coughing often. This combined with frequent hand washing and not touching one’s face were, for now, the best way to avoid contracting the viral disease.

The court will resume this afternoon with Kem Sokha’s lawyers questioning the opposition leader about the formation of the Cambodia National Rescue Party. The court is yet to discuss the 2013 general election and the post-election mass demonstrations, as well as the 2017 commune election.