Jailed Cambodian political and social commentator Kim Sok was summoned to court Tuesday for questioning in connection with charges of inciting social chaos and defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen during a radio interview with RFA’s Khmer Service last month.
The prominent analyst was grilled by authorities at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for four hours before being loaded onto a van and returned to Prey Sar Prison, where he has been held since his arrest in February.
Security personnel had covered Kim Sok’s mouth as he was led to the vehicle to prevent him from speaking to the media, but he managed to yell out that Tuesday’s hearing focused on a February interview with RFA’s Khmer Service that Hun Sen believed implies his government was behind last year’s murder of popular political pundit Kem Ley.
“I was questioned regarding the motive of my interview with RFA,” Kim Sok shouted to reporters after he was transferred into the waiting van.
The aftermath of Tuesday’s hearing differed than one earlier this month, when Kim Sok was permitted to speak with reporters, telling them authorities had offered to release him if he pledged to serve as a “focal point to implement the political plan of [Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP)] for the next generation.”
During that exchange, Kim Sok was unable to explain who had placed such a condition on his release or why he had been asked to represent the CPP before he was bundled onto a van and returned to prison, and CPP spokesperson Sok Ey San subsequently dismissed the analyst’s comments.
On Tuesday, Kim Sok’s defense attorney Choung Chou Ngy confirmed that his client had been questioned over the RFA interview, adding that he maintains the charges against him are baseless.
“Judge Ros Piseth ordered an audio recording of his interview to be played back during the questioning and asked Kim Sok to confirm what he said to RFA during the interview,” Choung Chou Ngy said.
Kim Sok was arrested Feb. 17 and charged with incitement and defamation, as hundreds of supporters protested in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court demanding justice for him.
Hun Sen sued the political analyst for “inciting social chaos” over accusations that the CPP had orchestrated the July 2016 murder of Kem Ley, but Kim Sok has told RFA that what he said about the killing was simply a reflection of what many Cambodians believe.
Kem Ley was gunned down in broad daylight on July 10 when he stopped in a Star Mart convenience store beside a Caltex gas station in Phnom Penh.
Although authorities charged a former soldier, identified as Oueth Ang, with the killing, many in Cambodia don’t believe the government’s story that Kem Ley was killed by the man over a debt. The accused killer had never moved in the same circles as Kem Ley and had used the alias Chuop Samlap, which roughly translated means “meet to kill.”
Just days before he was gunned down, Kem Ley had discussed on an RFA Khmer Service call-in show a report by London-based Global Witness detailing the extent of the wealth of the family of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 31 years.
On Dec. 23 the Phnom Penh court quietly closed its investigation into the case without revealing its findings.
In a final hearing on March 1, Oueth Ang confessed to killing Kem Ley. During more than five hours of proceedings, the court was shown blurry footage of the killing taken from a closed circuit camera at the Star Mart where it occurred.
Cambodian courts are notorious for their lack of independence, and opposition politicians and critics of Hun Sen often find themselves before the courts on various charges.
Wan-Hea Lee, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) representative in Cambodia, has called for a fair trial conducted by an independent court to determine Kim Sok’s guilt or innocence.
The verdict in his case is expected to be delivered on March 23.
Reported by Moniroth Morm for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.