The Cambodian trial of a former Victorian MP charged with incitement in his native country has been adjourned amid an international outcry over a crackdown on dissidents and a raft of prosecutions.
According to court documents Hong Lim is being tried in absentia alongside 14 others for incitement and could face up to 10 years imprisonment should he return to his country of birth.
Of the 15, five reside outside of Cambodia and have been charged in absentia. They have also been banned from returning despite court demands that they appear for trial.
Hong Lim says he has not received any notification regarding Case 5514 from the court or the Cambodian embassy in Canberra.
A team of 10 defence lawyers were assembled before Judge Tith Sothy Borachat and prosecutor Sona Rithyveasa as the charges under Article 28, 494 and 495 of the criminal code for instigating incitement were read to a packed court.
“It has been adjourned but a future date for the next hearing has not been set,” a spokesman for the Phnom Penh Municipal Court told AAP.
Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch, said these cases reflected what a bad year 2020 was for human rights in Cambodia.
“Activists’ rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly were regularly trampled by the Cambodian authorities in both a literal and figurative sense,” he said.
“Police used increased violence to suppress peaceful protests and hit people with bogus incitement charges based on their political affiliations or exercise of their human rights.”
The charges relate to the main opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP). Its leader Kem Sokha is under house arrest on charges of treason while leader-in-exile Sam Rainsy has also been charged in absentia and accused of fomenting a rebellion.
In 2013 the CNRP went close to winning national elections and claimed the result was rigged by the ruling Cambodian Peoples Party.
Widespread protests followed and the CNRP was dissolved by the courts, which enabled Prime Minister Hun Sen and the CPP to win every seat contested at elections in 2018.
Hong Lim was banned from entering Cambodia in 2016 after criticising Hun Sen in the wake of the murder Kem Ley, a close friend and prominent broadcaster who was gunned down in broad daylight while drinking coffee at a petrol station.
He said he was being kept up to date with briefings from Canberra.
“This is vintage game playing by Hun Sen,” Hong Lim, the former Labor Member for Clarinda in the Victorian Legislative Assembly, said from Melbourne.
“I’m just astounded that I’ve been summoned to appear. What crime have I done? What did I do to warrant this charge? I still don’t understand, I am persona non grata so why do this. It does not make sense.”