Kem Sokha goes on trial in Cambodia

The former opposition party chief calls for ‘national unity’ before his court appearance.
Kem Sokha goes on trial in Cambodia Kem Sokha speaks to reporters before going to court for his trial on treason charges, Jan. 19, 2022.

The trial on treason charges of Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha went ahead as scheduled on Wednesday, with the court allowing opening statements before postponing the proceedings for another week.

Speaking to reporters before the trial began, the former opposition party chief said he still hopes that a political solution can be reached in his case, and that the charges against him will be dismissed.

“I hope today that the court will drop the charges against me so that Cambodia can move forward toward national reconciliation. We must have national unity so that we can develop the country together,” he said.

Kem Sokha, then president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, was arrested in September 2017 over an alleged plot backed by the United States to overthrow the government of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than 35 years.

Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP two months later 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.

Kem Sokha declined on Wednesday to say if he will stand for election in local polls this year or in a national election in 2023.

Though not questioning Kem Sokha directly, the court heard opening statements from his lawyers and from government lawyers prosecuting the case. The court also allowed the playing of an edited 30-minute excerpt from the video of a speech given by Kem Sokha in Australia in 2013.

Defense lawyer Chan Chen told reporters after the court adjourned that he had asked that the entire unedited video be played in order to prove Kem Sokha’s innocence. “As you know, there was no collusion with foreigners to commit violent acts or to topple the government,” he said.

Diplomats and other outside observers were not allowed to attend Wednesday’s session. NGOs urged the court to televise proceedings so that more people could monitor the trial.

Chan Chen criticized the court’s decision to wait until Jan. 25 to resume, asking that trial sessions be held at least five days a week.

Government lawyer Ky Tech said that the case against Kem Sokha would end quickly if he confessed to the charges made against him. “If the person charged in this case acknowledges that crimes were committed and then confesses to those crimes and takes responsibility for them, the case can be quickly ended,” he said.

A political solution to the case against Kem Sokha can still be achieved, though, said Ny Sokha, director of the Cambodia-based rights group Adhoc, calling the charges filed against him a result of the dispute between the CNRP and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

“The ruling party can still find ways to compromise to resolve political conflicts,” Ny Sokha said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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