UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith expressed her regret Tuesday that she had been refused permission by Cambodia’s government to meet and speak with detained political opposition leader Kem Sokha while she visits the country from April 29 to May 9.
Kem Sokha, leader of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party, is being held under house arrest in Phnom Penh after being released from prison on Sept. 10, 2018, a year after he was arrested on treason charges widely seen as politically motivated.
The release of the former CNRP president from pre-trial detention carries the conditions that he must stay within a block radius of his home, cannot meet with CNRP officials or foreigners, and cannot speak at or host any rallies or political activities.
He still faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted of treason.
“I find it very unfortunate that as an independent expert appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council, I should have the right to access places of detention and also to meet with detainees,” said Smith to reporters after a meeting with the Cambodia Human Rights Committee Director Keo Remy.
“Kem Sokha is still detained, albeit not directly in a prison, he’s still detained, and has limitations on his liberties,” she said, adding, “it is my view that I should be entitled to meet with him and have a confidential meeting and discussion with him.”
Regarding her request to meet with Kem Sokha, Chin Malin, a spokesman of Cambodia’s Ministry of Justice, deferred to the decision of the investigating judge who refused her request.
“[The] judge already decided that she couldn’t meet with Kem Sokha because the case is pending an investigation,” said Chin Malin.
Meng Sopheary, one of Kem Sokha's four defense lawyers, said that visits by Smith would in no way derail any investigation.
“An accused has the right to meet NGOs even if he or she is being detained,” she said, adding, “As the U.N.’s rapporteur she should be able to meet and talk with Kem Sokha. She should not be banned.”
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.