Jailed Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha refused on Thursday to be questioned by court investigators in his prison cell in a remote corner of the country, instructing his attorney also to decline future sessions until he is transferred to a facility closer to his home in the capital Phnom Penh, his lawyer said today.
Kem Sokha is now exercising his “right to remain silent,” his attorney Som Sokhong told RFA’s Khmer Service in an interview.
“He has chosen to stop responding to questions by the investigating judge while he is being held at Trapeang Phlong prison,” Som Sokhong said. “He wants questioning to be conducted in a courtroom setting rather than a prison cell.”
“We are following his instructions and are boycotting the session,” he said, adding, “It is against the law for him to be questioned in prison.”
Kem Sokha, leader of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was arrested on Sept. 3 and faces charges of collaborating with the U.S. to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
Cambodia’s CPP-dominated Supreme Court ruled on Nov. 16 that the CNRP be dissolved for its part in the alleged plot, essentially eliminating Hun Sen’s competition ahead of a national election scheduled for July 2018.
Kem Sokha has already been questioned twice in his cell in remote Tboung Khmum province. In both cases, members of his legal team took issue with the investigator’s line of inquiry, which they said had assumed their client’s guilt.
Following today’s boycotted questioning session and another session scheduled for Dec. 22, a session has been scheduled for Dec. 29.
Also on Thursday, a lawyer for two former RFA Khmer Service reporters arrested in November on charges of “espionage” said an appeals court will hear their case on Dec. 26. They will also be questioned on Dec. 25 by the investigating judge of the Trial Court, attorney Keo Vanny said.
Former RFA reporters Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin were taken into custody on Nov. 14 by police who initially said the pair had been detained for running an unlicensed karaoke studio. They were later accused of setting up a studio for RFA and were formally charged with “illegally collecting information for a foreign source.”
They now face a possible prison term of up to 15 years.
RFA closed its operations in Cambodia in September amid a government crackdown on the media, and the two reporters have denied the charges against them.
Meanwhile, former Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia leader Chea Mony has fled the country into exile after being hit with a lawsuit by over 100 government-linked smaller unions and federations, sources said.
Filed earlier this week, the suit accuses Chea Mony of having called for international sanctions in response to the government’s shut-down of Hun Sen’s political opposition.
In an interview with RFA’s Khmer Service, Chea Mony had urged the European Union and the U.S. to impose sanctions on Cambodia to pressure Hun Sen to reinstate the CNRP, release Kem Sokha, and reverse a months-long crackdown on NGOs and the media ahead of next year’s general election.
Not safe to remain
Chea Mony joins a list of many CNRP members including party leaders, lawmakers, and commune council members who have now fled Cambodia ahead of threats by the ruling party.
Speaking to RFA earlier this week, Sea Phirom—executive director of the Housing Rights Task Force, now living in the U.S.—said that the government had tied his work helping the victims of land grabs to alleged support for a popular revolution against the ruling party.
“It was not safe for me to remain in Cambodia,” he said
“The courts and the prisons are now political tools used by the government to silence its opposition along with the media and NGOs,” he said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Richard Finney.