The lawyer representing jailed political and social commentator Kim Sok on Wednesday called a decision by Cambodia’s Appeals Court to deny his client bail “flawed,” saying the ruling assumes he is guilty of incitement and defamation charges without having been tried.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, which was held earlier amid tightened security and closed to the press, Kim Sok’s lawyer Choung Chou Ngy said Appeals Court Judge Nguon Im had violated the principle of presumption of innocence by declaring his client ineligible for release.
“In ruling against my client’s appeal for provisional release, the court has based its reasoning on the grounds that Kim Sok shall remain in custody to prevent the crime from happening again and ensure his presence during the court proceedings,” Choung Chou Ngy said.
“I consider such grounds flawed. The court has presumed that the crime was actually committed.”
Kim Sok was arrested Feb. 17 and charged with inciting social chaos and defaming Prime Minister Hun Sen during a radio interview with RFA’s Khmer Service last month. He is being held in Prey Sar Prison on the outskirts of the capital Phnom Penh.
Hun Sen sued the analyst for allegedly accusing the CPP of orchestrating the July 2016 murder of popular political pundit 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 murder, many in Cambodia don’t believe the government’s story that Kem Ley was killed by the man over a debt.
Just days before he was gunned down, Kem Ley had discussed on a 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 murder case without revealing its findings and in a final hearing on March 1, Oueth Ang confessed to killing Kem Ley.
Am Sam Ath, a monitor with local rights group Licadho, told RFA’s Khmer Service Wednesday that rulings against detained activists had become the “new norm” in Cambodia’s judicial system.
“It is customary now that the courts will simply use whatever reason they can to deny applications for provisional release [for activists],” he said.
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 and Chandara Yang. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.