UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith again has 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, Smith said on Thursday.
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 have sought to visit Kem Sokha but permission has been refused once again,” Smith told RFA’s Khmer Service in an e-mail.
Smith was denied access to Kem Sokha during her previous visit in November, shortly after he was moved to house arrest. At the time, she called on the courts to drop treason charges against former opposition leader Kem Sokha and urged speedier trial procedures for him.
“I also call for the release of Kem Sokha from restricted detention and for the swift conclusion of the investigation in his case to ensure his right to a trial within a reasonable time based on a clear and transparent evaluation of the evidence, or for the charges to be dropped.” Smith said in a statement in November
Chin Malin, a spokesman for Cambodia’s Ministry of Justice, defended the decision.
“It is proper for, and at the discretion of, the investigating judge to refuse such requests, for Kem Sokha is placed under judicial supervision under which he is refrained from traveling and meeting certain people,” he said.
Cambodian authorities arrested opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Kem Sokha in September 2017 on charges of “treason” and the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP two months later, paving the way for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election.
“Human rights workers are granted access to meet with detainees in prisons,”
Said Pheng Heng, a lawyer for Kem Sokha. “I don’t see why Rhona Smith was refused permission to meet with Kem Sokha as long as she has filed her request to the relevant investigating judge.”
“This is yet another indication of how people’s basic human rights are badly restricted,” said Am Sam Ath, the head of investigations for local rights group Licadho.
“Kem Sokha … should be protected by the principle of the presumption of innocence and right to liberty as guaranteed in both the Cambodian constitution and international instruments,” he told RFA.
“Kem Sokha is being deprived of his liberty and freedom as his basic rights are strictly prohibited while under judicial supervision,” added Am Sam Ath.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Paul Eckert.