Cambodia’s Appeals Court upheld the continued detention without bail of opposition leader Kem Sokha on Tuesday, as Prime Minister Hun Sen boasted that he personally ordered the arrest last year that has earned Phnom Penh international condemnation and cuts in aid from donor counties.
Then opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Kem Sokha was arrested last September on charges of collaborating with the U.S. to overthrow the government, and the Supreme Court followed in November with a decision to ban the CNRP for its role in his alleged plot, stripping officials of their posts and banning many from politics for five years.
The Appeals Court rejected Kem Sokha’s appeal against the Trial Court’s decision to impose a second six-month term provisional detention on the CNRP leader. Kem Sokha was summoned, but did not appear in court for the hearing.
Hem Socheat, a lawyer for Kem Sokha, said the decision by the court violated the law and human rights principles.
“We made our submission during the hearing that the first six months of Kem Sokha’s provisional detention is sufficient. He should not be detained for another six months,” he told reporters outside the courthouse.
“We will continue to request for his provisional release though we do not expect that the court would allow his bail,” added Hem Socheat.
“Kem Sokha’s case is a political one. A political case should never be solved in the court of laws. This morning’s proceedings were merely carried out to satisfy the requirements of the appeal process,” Eng Chhai Eang, a CNRP vice president, wrote on his Facebook page.
Cambodia’s courts are not considered independent and are seen as beholden to Hun Sen and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
Amid tight security outside the Appeal Court, security guards prevented supporters of Kem Sokha from gathering.
A protester who managed to draw a political message on the ground was slapped in the face by Kim Vutha, the chief of the local security guards.
“No politics is allowed here. You have to erase it or I’ll give you another slap,” said Kim Vutha.
Hun Sen's crackdown
Hun Sen has targeted the political opposition, NGOs, and independent media in a months-long crackdown to silence government critics ahead of a general election on July 29. The move came after indications the CPP would face a robust challenge from the CNRP in the July elections.
In comments to supports on Tuesday, Hun Sen boasted of his role in directing the arrest of Kem Sokha and repeated a vow to hold an election seen by most analysts as meaningless without any opposition.
“There will no pardon, no negotiation, but there will be an election,” he said.
“I don’t believe the Appeal Court will release the contemptible and chief traitor. I am the one who ordered his arrest in the first place. Without my order, no one would dare to arrest him. For treason, he had to be arrested, even at night time,” added Hun Sen.
“I’d like to make clear two points: First, there will be no negotiation with people who commit treason. Second, there will be no pardon or amnesty to these traitors. However you think or react, I don’t care,” he said at a graduation ceremony in the capital.
Hun Sen also bragged about making prison authorities seize a cell phone of former CNRP media director Meach Sovannara, who with other party members is serving a prison term of up to 20 years on insurrection charges for clashing with police over the closure of a protest site in the capital in 2014.
“With my order, I want his phone to be seized and past communication be checked to find out to whom he has contacted so that we can arrest more big fish,” he told the graduates.
Last month, the European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council threatened the Cambodian government with “specific targeted measures” if it failed to stop using the judiciary as a “political tool” to harass and intimidate political opponents, civil society, labor rights activists, and human rights defenders.
Also in February, the White House announced that it was ending or curtailing several U.S. Treasury Department, USAID, and American military assistance programs that support Cambodia’s taxation department, local governments, and military. It said aid for health care, agriculture, and mine-clearing would continue.
The U.S. cited recent setbacks to democracy in Cambodia, including the recent Senate elections in which the ruling CPP took all seats in an uncontested vote held just over three months after the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP.
On Monday, exiled CNRP former president Sam Rainsy complained in an interview with RFA’s Cambodian Service that “all of Hun Sen’s words are about personal issues, accusing others of this and that” and appealed for a higher level dialogue on issues facing Cambodia.
“If we are to hold a dialogue in the name of a leader, we must hold a dialogue for the national interest – not on personal anger, feelings, and envy, or any tricks to eliminate others,” he told RFA.
In his remarks on Tuesday, Hun Sen claimed Sam Rainsy is trying to destroy him.
“I have my own set of objectives: to destroy you,” he said of the opposition chief, who has lived in exile since November 2015.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Paul Eckert.