In a rare intervention, Cambodia’s King Norodom Sihamoni has demanded an investigation over a Phnom Penh judge who interviewed an opposition party activist without his attorney being present.
A lawmaker had complained to the king that Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge Keo Mony had questioned Ouch Pich Samnang of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) on Nov. 18 over his participation in an opposition-led protest on July 15 in the capital’s Freedom Park.
Ouch Pich Samnang was among more than a dozen CNRP members arrested and charged in connection with the protest in which 40 people were injured after a clash erupted between party supporters and park security guards who tried to prevent them from forcing the reopening of the once-closed park.
CNRP lawmaker and rights activist Mu Sochua on Dec. 3 submitted a complaint to the king, who is president of the Supreme Council of Magistracy which oversees judges and prosecutors, accusing Keo Mony of abusing court procedure by questioning Ouch Pich Samnang for 30 minutes without his lawyer present.
Two days later, the king wrote to Justice Minister Ang Vongvathana, who also sits on the council, asking him to investigate the allegation.
Chhoung Chu Ngy, Ouch Pich Samnang’s lawyer, told RFA’s Khmer Service that legal procedures dictate that an accused person’s lawyer must be invited to participate in the questioning process, although the judge failed to do this in Ouch Pich Samnang’s case.
“The investigation is a warning against any judges who abuse the rights of the accused,” he said. “During questioning, lawyers must be present to protect the clients.”
Justice Ministry spokesman Kem Santepheap said Ang Vongvathana has forwarded the king’s written request to the Supreme Council of Magistracy.
Kem Santepheap declined to say whether the judge could face any punishment, and Keo Mony could not be reached for comment.
Separately, the Phnom Penh court said the cases of 10 men, including Ouch Pich Samnang, charged with a variety of offenses in connection with the July 15 protest, would be heard on Dec. 25, according to their lawyers, The Phnom Penh Post reported.
Seven lawmakers also charged will not have their cases heard because they have parliamentary immunity, the report said.
Freedom Park is the only place where protests were allowed in Phnom Penh until it was closed to the public in January following a deadly crackdown on CNRP-backed striking workers.
Following the July 15 protest, CNRP deputy chief Kem Sokha said that opposition protesters “acted on their own” after guards at Freedom Park had tried to pull down a banner hung by the CNRP calling on the government to reopen the park.
After the incident, Keo Mony had issued subpoenas to eight CNRP politicians, including Kem Sokha, for questioning in connection with the clash.
He ordered all eight plus another CNRP party member to appear at an Aug. 11 hearing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
At the time, Kem Sokha told RFA that the order amounted to a “political show” because he was not at the July 15 protest.
The seven other lawmakers and one party member had earlier been charged with “insurrection” for their role in the protest, but were released about a week later after a July 22 agreement between the CNRP and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) that ended a year of political deadlock following disputed July 28, 2013, general elections.
CNRP President Sam Rainsy had said that their release was part of the deal, which also led to the reopening of Freedom Park.
Reported by Tep Soravy for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.