Cambodia’s Supreme Court on Monday upheld a lower court decision from March denying the request of jailed opposition leader Kem Sokha’s lawyers that he be granted bail, extending his pretrial detention for another six months, one of the lawyers said.
Kem Sokha, Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president, 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 dissolve the CNRP for its role in his alleged plot, stripping officials of their posts and banning many from politics for five years.
The lawyer, one of three who attended Monday’s hearing on Kem Sokha’s behalf, criticized the court, telling RFA’s Khmer Service there is no ground for continuing to detain her client. She said Kem Sokha is not a flight risk and that he meets all requirements for bail, stipulated in Article 223 of the Criminal Code of Procedures on Obligations under Judicial Supervision.
“This case is undoubtedly politically motivated. The only way our client can be released is through political resolution, when politicians resume talks, without which it remains challenging for us to fight for justice for our client to get a fair trial,” said the lawyer.
She said Kem Sokha’s legal team will file another request for bail.
“Our client has not committed any crimes. He should be released immediately and unconditionally. We will continue to seek all possible judicial venues for his release,” she said.
At the end of March, Cambodia’s Appeals Court upheld Kem Sokha’s continued detention without bail, despite what the CNRP leader’s lawyers said at the time was his “rapidly worsening” health as a result of the unhygienic conditions of his jail cell in Tbong Khmum province’s remote Trapeang Phlong prison.
The legal team have also complained that guards prevent his family members from providing him with medicine.
In early April, Kem Sokha called on court authorities to release him to allow him to seek medical treatment abroad and restart negotiations with ahead of a general election slated for July 29.
Kem Sokha has also appealed to his supporters and those of former CNRP President Sam Rainsy, who is currently living in self-imposed exile to avoid convictions seen as politically motivated, to “maintain a united front” in the hopes of reinstating the banned opposition party.
Sam Rainsy took to his Facebook page on Monday in response to Kem Sokha’s continued detention and called for a boycott of the July vote.
“The reason Kem Sokha continues to be detained because he remains loyal to his people and refuses to abandon the CNRP. He still wants a real change. In order to help secure Kem Sokha’s release Cambodians must not go to vote. We can show our support to Kem Sokha and the CNRP through our boycott of the upcoming election.”
Kem Sokha’s plea to the courts, which are seen as beholden to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), comes amid an ongoing government crackdown on the political opposition, NGOs and the media.
The campaign is viewed as part of a bid by Hun Sen to ensure the CPP remains in power for another term following the vote planned for July in which the ruling party is the only significant party on the ballot.
“Kem Sokha’s continued detention is related to the upcoming election,” said Kem Sokha’s daughter Kem Monovithya.
“As long as there is no political solution from the top leaders of the current regime, my father’s case will remain as it is. Cambodia will surely plunge into a big crisis if Hun Sen continues to hold the next election without the release of Kem Sokha and the lift of the ban on the CNRP officials ahead of the election,”
“My father has some medical conditions that need immediate attention,” added Kem Monovithya, without elaborating on her 64-year-old father's health.
Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Paul Eckert.