Cambodia’s Phnom Penh Municipal Court has indefinitely postponed the trial on charges of "forgery and incitement" of jailed opposition senator Hong Sok Hour, adjourning again on Wednesday after proceedings resumed following an earlier postponement on Oct. 2.
The move was quickly criticized by rights groups and the senator’s wife and lawyer, who called the further postponement—and the lawmaker’s subsequent return to prison without bail—a violation of his rights to a fair and speedy trial.
“The judge must speed up this process,” Am Sam Ath, senior investigator for the rights group Licadho, said following the judge’s decision as about 100 supporters of the jailed senator protested outside the court.
“If there is a long delay, this will affect the defendant’s rights,” he said.
Hong Sok Hour’s wife Kun Lum Ang meanwhile slammed the court’s decision, pointing to what she called “political influence” exerted on the court by the country’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
“The court is being politically influenced. This is a political persecution,” she said.
Hong Sok Hour, a member of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), was arrested by Cambodian police on Aug. 15 after Prime Minister Hun Sen accused him of treason for posting on Facebook a disputed diplomatic document, later shown to contain inaccurate wording, relating to the country’s border with neighboring Vietnam.
He was then charged with forging a public document and with incitement to cause social unrest, and was sent to Phnom Penh's Prey Sar Prison.
In an ongoing dispute with the ruling CPP, the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP)—a merged political grouping that includes the SRP and is led by Sam Rainsy—contends that Vietnam has been encroaching on Cambodian territory at various spots along the shared 1,228-kilometer (763-mile) border.
It has also accused the government of ceding land to Vietnam, which invaded and occupied Cambodia in 1979, by using incorrect maps to determine border demarcation.
'My client is innocent'
In what sources described as a “heated” session on Wednesday, Hong Sok Hour’s lawyer presented to the court an original form of his client’s posted document, arguing that the inaccuracies leading to his arrest had been inserted earlier by a translator, and not by the senator himself.
Admitting the document into evidence, presiding judge Ros Piseth then halted the trial, citing a need for time to conduct a more thorough investigation.
“This evidence proves that my client is innocent,” Hong Sok Hour’s lawyer Chhoung Chou Ngy told reporters after the trial’s adjournment.
“If the court considers this evidence seriously, my client will be freed,” he said.
'Stifling free expression'
There is no evidence that Hong Sok Hour was aware of the inaccuracies contained in his online postings at the time that he made them, New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement last week.
“[Prime Minister] Hun Sen has turned an inaccurate historical statement into a criminal offense to crack down on the political opposition and demonstrate that he can arrest and imprison anybody, anytime,” HRW Asia director Brad Adams said.
“Cambodia’s [international] donors should not let Hun Sen and his government get away with stifling free expression and the democratic process, but should jointly and publicly call for those practices to end,” he said.
Reported by Morm Moniroth for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.