More than 60 former officials and members of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party have been summoned for a trial related to “plotting” and “incitement” charges.
Sixty-seven former officials of the party will now join 58 other CNRP officials, including senior members Sam Rainsy, Eng Chhai Eang, and Mu Sochua, who have been asked to attend the trial starting November 26, according to summons issued by deputy prosecutor Seng Heang.
The charges are linked to Sam Rainsy’s attempted return to the country last year, which was blocked by government travel bans. The 67 people, mostly commune, district, and provincial officials, have been asked to appear before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on December 21 and 26 in summons plastered on the CNRP headquarters last week. The remaining are expected to appear on November 26.
Y Rin, a spokesman for the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Sam Sokong, who represents CNRP and CNRP-linked defendants, said the cases were politically motivated and that it was unfair for exiled CNRP members because they were either unaware of the charges or unable to assign legal representation.
“If we talk about justice for the accused persons, I think it is a violation of a person’s rights when they are not aware of their charges or they can’t assign their own lawyers or meet their lawyers,” he said.
He said that senior party leaders had been accused of wanting to topple the government and were using lower-level officials to commit these alleged crimes.
Em Sovannara, a Cambodian political commentator, said the significant increase in the summons for lower-level former CNRP officials would likely not result in any defections to the ruling party.
He differentiated these summons from former opposition lawmaker Ly Srey Vyna’s request for political rehabilitation last week and her request to join the Cambodian People’s Party.
“If they wanted to defect, they would have done since the beginning. By this stage, it means the willingness or spirit of opposition activists reveals no intention or aspiration to defect,” he said.
The flurry of court summons and trial against former members of the dissolved CNRP has come weeks after Sam Rainsy announced that he again planned to return to Cambodia, but has yet to give an exact date.
Last week, exiled senior CNRP leaders asked the Cambodian government to allow them entry into the country to attend the trial hearing after 12 of them had their passports canceled last year.
Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch, said the summons revealed that Prime Minister Hun Sen and the government wanted a massive trial to end any support for the CNRP.
“Quite clearly, [Prime Minister] Hun Sen wants to wipe out the remaining CNRP activist networks in Cambodia by either forcing the activists to flee into exile or imprisoning them on bogus charges heard by kangaroo courts,” he said in an email.
Chin Malin, a Justice Ministry spokesperson, said any court actions were legitimate because the accused had committed the alleged crimes. He said the summons would continue as long as former CNRP members continued to violate the law.
“This is normal when seen from a law enforcement perspective. If we don’t want more subpoenas to come out, stop all activities that are a violation of the law,” he said.