Transparency urged for Cambodian oppn leader’s treason trial

Cheryl Sanders
January 16, 2020

A Cambodian court on Wednesday opened the trial of Kem Sokha, an opposition party leader accused of treason during a widespread crackdown on government critics.

The actions were seen as meant to ensure victory by long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party in the 2018 general election by eliminating the only credible opposition force.

Asked if the case was political, Tech replied that the court was trying Sokha with conspiracy with a foreign power according to Article 443 of the Criminal Code.

Court officials said the courtroom was too small to accommodate all, and seats were reserved for embassy officials, relatives, and members of Kem Sokha's Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). "I continue to demand that the court permanently drop the charge against me so that I can fully exercise my political freedom in participation in serving and defending the interests of the country and the people". Just $5 a month.

Journalists said only a "few" of their colleagues were allowed into the court, with others waiting on the street outside.

But government lawyer Ky Tech told reporters Wednesday there were more than two dozen witnesses and "suitcases of evidence" to bolster the treason charges.

This could come in the form of a royal pardon if Kem Sokha is convicted, he said.

The morning session was occupied by legal formalities as evidence was introduced for the trial. She said Sokha had rejected the two-minute video clip played in court, saying it was misleading after being cut and edited. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, said it was unlikely Mr Sokha would receive a fair trial.

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

Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha greets media at his home in Phnom Penh on Nov 13, 2019.

The trial begins at a politically delicate time for Hun Sen, as Cambodia faces likely trade sanctions from the European Union. They have accused Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 35 years, of establishing a one-party state.

His party swept all the seats in the National Assembly in the 2018 polls, but drew condemnation from human rights groups and Western nations, which charged that the election was neither free nor fair.

More significantly, the European Union began a process that could result in its withdrawal of preferential duty-free and quota-free status for imports from Cambodia because of deficiencies in labor and human rights.

It is not clear when a verdict will be announced and it could be months before the decision is made.

Just like many of his fellow countrymen, the 68-year old Cambodian believes that Sokha didn't commit any crime. The EU, which accounts for almost half of Cambodia's exports, will decide in February whether or not to remove Cambodia from its Everything But Arms trade scheme over its crackdown on political expression.

The EBA grants duty and quota free access to the bloc for all exports except weapons and ammunition.

The threatened action could badly hurt the Cambodia economy, which depends heavily on exports of low-priced textiles and footwear.

Mr Sokha was released on bail soon after the 2018 election but kept under house arrest until November.

Reporters from Reuters and the Phnom Penh Post said they had been told there were no more seats available.

But, she said, the video, which was the basis for the charge, could not be used to prove an attempted revolution because there were no "actual" activities to support the claim.

Other reports by iNewsToday