Cambodian Opposition Leader Kem Sokha Asks That Treason Charges Against Him be Dropped


2020-09-02
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cambodia-kem-sokha-siem-reap-july-2020-crop.jpg Kem Sokha (C, blue scarf) meets with locals in Siem Reap province, July 19, 2020.
Kem Sokha's Facebook page

Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha, awaiting trial on charges of treason, on Wednesday called on the court handling his case to drop all charges against him so that he can return to political work amid national fears over the spread of coronavirus.

“It has now been three years since I lost my freedom and right to engage in politics so that I can serve my country and constituents,” Kem Sokha, head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) said in a Sept. 2 Facebook posting.

“Under the present circumstances, we need national reconciliation and unity, and I must have my full freedom to serve Cambodia and the [Cambodian] people,” he said, adding, “I would like to ask the court to consider dropping the charges against me.”

Kem Sokha was arrested in September 2017 over an alleged plot to overthrow the government with the help of Washington, and Cambodia’s Supreme Court banned his party in November that year for its supposed role in the scheme.

The move to dissolve the CNRP marked the beginning of a wider crackdown by Prime Minister Hun Sen on the political opposition, NGOs, and the independent media that paved the way for his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election.

Kem Sokha was released from pre-trial detention to house arrest in September 2018 and granted bail in November last year by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, and he is now allowed to travel within Cambodia but is restricted from taking part in political activities.

His trial began on Jan. 15 but has been postponed while the country grapples with the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.

Kem Sokha maintains his innocence, and his lawyers have said all along that prosecutors lack evidence to convict him at trial.

Attempts to reach Kem Sokha’s lawyers and Ministry of Justice spokesperson Chhin Malin were unsuccessful Wednesday, but CPP spokesperson Sok Ey San told RFA that Kem Sokha will not be allowed to return to political work while he still awaits trial.

“When the court charged him, he lost his political rights,” Sok Ey San said, adding that 118 other CNRP activists and former lawmakers have now also been banned from politics since their party was dissolved.

As a politician, Kem Sokha needs to show he is still active in order to draw support from his followers, and his Facebook message was likely intended to pressure the court to speed up his trial, Cambodia-based political analyst Em Sovannara told RFA on Wednesday.

“But he won’t be able to convince the court or the government to drop the charges against him, because the ruling party is still working to weaken the opposition party,” Em Sovannara said. “It’s only the international community that might have some influence over the government.”

In July, the presiding judge in Kem Sokha’s trial warned him to adhere to the court order banning him from political activities after the 67-year-old opposition leader quietly began a tour of the country’s provinces—visits that one of his lawyers characterized as “sightseeing.”

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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