Ex-CNRP commune chief in court

Former Poipet Commune Chief Chao Veasna appears at the Supreme Court last year. He was tried with nine others on Monday over a protest that turned violent in the border town in 2015.
Former Poipet Commune Chief Chao Veasna appears at the Supreme Court last year. He was tried with nine others on Monday over a protest that turned violent in the border town in 2015. Pha Lina

The Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court held a hearing on Monday in the trial of former CNRP Commune Chief Chao Veasna, local unionist Mang Puthy and eight transportation workers in relation to a 2015 protest that turned violent in the border town.

Veasna, a former opposition commune chief, was arrested in 2017 and charged with incitement and for being an “accomplice” to the destruction of property, nearly two years after transportation workers hurled rocks at the Poipet Customs Department building.

Demonstrators protesting import taxes were dispersed after Military Police fired warning shots, with one protester seriously injured after being beaten by police. Veasna has claimed he was only observing the protest in his capacity as a local official.

He went on to win the 2017 commune elections while still in prison, but lost his position following the forced dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party in November.

Unionist Puthy, who is facing the same charges, says he came to the protest because some of the protesting workers were represented by his union. He was at the centre of a controversy last year involving a Poipet immigration officer who claimed Puthy hit him with an SUV. A video of the incident showed that Puthy’s car was stationary when Chhean Pisith, the officer in question, abruptly dropped to the ground in front of it.

Veasna, Puthy and one transportation worker, Yim Sothy – who along with the other workers is charged with destruction of property – were the only accused present at court, with Licadho Coordinator In Kongchit saying the hearing had been delayed three times. A verdict is expected on Tuesday.

“He [Veasna] said he did not commit anything wrong, he did not incite people, he did not order them to hurl the rocks,” Kongchit said.

Puthy, president of the Cambodia Informal Economy Reinforced Association, told the court that he was not in Poipet town when the protest started and only reached the city later, attempting to broker a compromise between officials and workers.

“I did not go to incite them. I did not collude as the prosecutor charged me,” he said.

Veasna’s lawyer, Choung Choungy, only said that the verdict was expected on Tuesday morning. He also filed another bail request for the former commune chief.

Veasna has requested bail in the past citing poor health and was hospitalised last June for an appendix surgery.