Cambodia begins judging opposition leader's betrayal as criticism mounts

Nellie Chapman
January 16, 2020

Amnesty International said authorities "have not presented a shred of credible evidence to support a charge of treason".

Charges of treason stem from allegations that Kem Sokha was plotting with the United States to oust Hun Sen.

Kem Sokha's lawyer, Meng Sopheary, said the prosecution's case was based on edited video. They then suspended the proceedings till next week, said Pheng Heng, one of Kem Sokha's lawyers.

Kem Sokha's trial is expected to take up to three months, meeting twice a week, said Phnom Penh Municipal Court President Taing Sunlay, according to a report by the USA -government-funded Voice of America.

"Kem Sokha told the hearing that the voice and picture in the clip were of him, but he produced another video and requested the trial chamber to accept it". A Reuters witness saw some empty seats during the Wednesday session attended by diplomats and officials.

"The Phnom Penh Court must acquit Kem Sokha to bring an end to this mockery of justice", he said. Ky Tech did not specify whether the court plans to summon representatives of those countries to appear at the trial.

Sokha, president of the now-banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was detained in a midnight raid in September 2017. He maintains his innocence and his lawyers have said that prosecutors lack evidence to convict.

Hun Sen late past year made some gestures at political liberalization, and the courts allowed Kem Sokha to be freed on bail after a period of tightly restricted house arrest.

After Kem Sokha's 2017 arrest, Hun Sen tightened his grip on the country when the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP, considered the only real threat to the ruling Cambodian People's Party ahead of the 2018 elections.

Sokha also took to Facebook to deny the charge.

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He said he had not engaged with foreign state actors to "conduct hostility or [an] invasion" against Cambodia, and that he "did not commit anything of which I am accused"-particularly acts that would be detrimental to the national interest".

Rights groups have decreed the issue. "My political activities were focused on the participation in free, fair and just elections".

Journalists have reportedly been barred from the court room while some were told they were not even allowed to stand outside the court. "I want to see what evidence they show".

A Cambodian court opened a trial against the prominent Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha, accusing him of "conspiring with foreign powers" to overthrow the government.

"Kem Sokha's charges must be voided and the rights of CNRP members must be fully respected to enable them to freely participate without discrimination in Cambodia's political life once again".

"There is only one solution: The court must drop charges against Kem Sokha". In the speech, he talked about receiving support from the U.S. to create change in the country from a grassroots level.

"Given the shoddy, rights abusing way the government has treated Kem Sokha, and the government's failures to make any serious progress on other rights issues, the European Union will be fully justified if it takes harsh action next month to enforce the human rights provisions contained in the EBA agreement", HRW's Robertson stated.

"The reality is Kem Sokha did nothing he should have been charged for and this entire pre-trial prison detention, house arrest and now trial has been a massive violation of his human rights", he added.

The case against Sokha, as well as the dissolving of the CNRP, was widely criticized in and outside Cambodia.

While some praise the decision to finally start the trial against Sokha, many observers don't believe that it will lead to political changes in Cambodia.

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