Cambodian prosecutors play videos of Kem Sokha at treason trial

Defense attorneys say the former political opposition leader’s right to a speedy trial is being ignored.
Kem Sokha, former leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, waves to his supporters outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Jan. 25, 2022.

Cambodian prosecutors played several videos of Kem Sokha’s past speeches as evidence against him in his treason case on Tuesday, as defense attorneys for the former leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party criticized the court for allowing the long-delayed trial to extend for so long.

The short videos played during the hearing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court showed Kem Sokha, 68, speaking as opposition leader in Cambodia and abroad, including a demonstration in the capital’s Freedom Park, where he called for a higher minimum wage for in Kampong Cham province.

Prosecutors in the trial, which resumed on Jan. 19 after a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 virus pandemic, showed videos of the speeches to try to prove that Kem Sokha colluded with the United States to seize power in Cambodia after the 2013 election.

A group of about 50 of Kem Sokha’s supported waited outside the courthouse while the trial was in session, though there were no incidents.

The court agreed to a request from deputy prosecutor Plang Sophal that the trial be resumed on Feb. 2. Kem Sokha’s defense team opposed the delay and urged the court to speed up the trial by holding hearings more than once a week.

“The case has been delayed for nearly two years,” Ang Udom, one of Kem Sokha’s defense lawyers, told RFA. “Kem Sokha’s right to a fair trial has been violated.

“We are disappointed with the court. We want the process to be sped up. We want the case to be finished at the soonest,” he said.

Kem Sokha was arrested in September 2017 over an alleged plot backed by the United States to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than 35 years. Kem Sokha spent a year in jail before being released under court supervision.

After his arrest, Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in a move that allowed Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party to win all 125 seats in Parliament in a July 2018 election and drew U.S. sanctions and the suspension of trade privileges with the European Union.

When his trial resumed on Jan. 19, Kem Sokha called for the treason charges against him to be dropped. He and his supporters say the charges are politically motivated.

Ang Udom said that the prosecutor had mocked the defense team by saying that if a speedy end to the trial was the goal, then the ex-politician should just confess.

“This is wrong. It is against all the law. He didn’t commit any crime. There is no justice. It is fake [and] cannot be accepted,” Ang Udom said.

Ang Udom said he would not try to negotiate a plea bargain because his client did not commit a crime. His innocence might also keep Kem Sokha from accepting a post-conviction amnesty from King Norodom Sihamoni, Ang Udom said, although he added that he could not speak for the former CNRP leader on the matter.

Neither the Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman nor government attorney Ky Tech could not be reached for comment.

Soeung Sengkaruna, spokesman of the human rights organization Adhoc, who has been monitoring the trial, said that the prosecution should not try to force Kem Sokha to plead guilty without any real evidence against him.

“This shows that the court prosecutor is incapable of convicting Kem Sokha so they are pushing him to confess,” he said.

Hun Sen may not allow Kem Sokha to be freed any time soon since the autocratic leader is grooming his son, Hun Manet, to take over, social and political commentator Kim Sok said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.


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