Phnom Penh Municipal Court heard a case on Thursday against a member of the Khmer National Liberation Front (KNLF), designated a terrorist group in the Kingdom, for holding a press conference last year in which he called for the government to release political prisoners, with the authorities claiming it was an act of “incitement”.
The accused, Thuy Vy, member of the Denmark-based KNLF, was arrested by Phnom Penh municipal police on May 16 last year during a conference held at a local NGO, the Inter-Racialism High Commissioner, in Chbar Ampov district. Vy was charged with “incitement to commit a felony” under to articles 494 and 495 of the Criminal code. If found guilty, he faces a jail term of between six months and two years.
Vy, 29, testified in court on Thursday, saying the press conference was organised to request the government to release political prisoners in Cambodia and respect the 1991 Paris Peace Accord.
“The purpose of the conference was to request the government to release political prisoners, opposition leaders, land activists and human rights defenders; to request for the establishment of a political party; to pardon Sam Serey [leader of the KNLF]; and to request the UN be involved in organising the election in Cambodia,” Vy told the court.
Vy also told the court he joined the KNLF in 2016 after his family had lost land in a dispute, which made him want to push for change. Another reason, he said, was to push for the government to respect the peace agreement and bring about peace and freedom.
Prosecutor Vong Bunvisoth challenged the accused, saying Cambodia is already at peace.
“Is Cambodia having a war now? Why did you need to join the KNLF? You said you wanted peace, what conflict is there in Cambodia now? Sam Serey used to appeal to topple the government and create problems,” Bunvisoth said.
Vy only responded that Serey never made any call to topple the government.
Two witnesses, Savak Khit, the president of the Inter-Racialism High Commissioner, and Lim Sophea, Khit’s assistant, were absent in court. However their submitted testimony was read out in court. They said they told Serey to stop attempting to topple the government and form a party to join the election.
Prosecutor Bunvisoth requested the court to sentence Vy according to the law. “The accused has committed an incitement to provoke people to cause chaos in society. I would like the court to prosecute him according to law,” he said.
But Vy, in his final words, appealed to Prime Minister Hun Sen to pardon him.
“I would like to request Samdech Techo Hun Sen to pardon me. I joined the KNLF because I did not know that it was an illegal group,” he said.
Vann Chankruesna, Vy’s defence attorney, asked the court to drop the charges against his client, saying the conference Vy held was a form of freedom of expression.
“It is just freedom of expression as stated in Article 31 of the Constitution. I would like the judge to drop the charges against my client,” Chankruesna said.
Judge Sor Linna is to deliver the verdict on May 23.
Reached on Thursday, Serey, president of the KNLF, agreed with Chankruesna, saying Vy was simply exercising his freedom of expression.
“It is very unjust for the members of the KNLF, like Thuy Vy, who just held a press conference with the intention to solve political crisis, having only a book and pen. It is his right to be able to speak. But instead he was arrested and accused of being a terrorist and part of a treasonous group,” Serey said.
Serey went on to say the government labelled the group a terrorist organisation due to a picture of him wearing military fatigues that he took in 2000 when he was a soldier. He said his KNLF was formed in 2012.
He said 18 members of the KNLF had been jailed or detained so far, including Vy. He himself was arrested by Thai authorities last month but was later released and went back to Demark after the Cambodian government asked Thailand to extradite him to Cambodia.
“Now, I am in Denmark, which is a free and democratic country,” he said.