Heavy Security and Witnesses Barred in Trial Against Human Rights Defenders

A trial involving four human rights defenders and garment factory workers begun in Phnom Penh on 25 April amid heavy security. The 23 defendants had been arrested when security forces cracked down on mass demonstrations in January. Roadblocks sealed off the court and security forces at the gate refused entry to witnesses, family and members of the public.

“Family members and rights workers were disappointed that justice appeared so distant at this first trial day,” said Brittis Edman, Southeast Asia Programme Director, Civil Rights Defenders, currently in Phnom Penh.

The human rights defenders had been transferred from the remote CC3 prison to the hearings in Phnom Penh. Trade unionists Theng Savoeun and Vorn Pao, labour rights worker Sokun Sombath Piseth, and community leader Chan Puthisak are facing incitement charges and risk up to two years in prison. Others face additional charges and risk up to five years in prison plus steep fines.

Amid roadblocks and a heavy presence of security forces, Civil Rights Defenders and other international human rights organisations attended the hearings, alongside many local organisations such as LICADHO, CLEC and Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, some diplomats, and family members to the defendants. Many were barred from entering the courthouse, including witnesses. The trials adjourned until 6 May, with the detainees being escorted back to prison.

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