Cambodian court warns Kem Sokha, on trial for ‘treason,’ not to get political

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Experts at UN call for reexamination of June 14 mass trial that sent opposition activists to prison.

A court in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh warned opposition leader Kem Sokha not to engage in any further political activities after the prosecution played a recorded conversation he held with supporters ahead of recent local elections, the latest wrinkle in his trial that started more than two years ago on unsubstantiated charges of treason.

The deputy court prosecutor demanded Kem Sokha’s arrest after alleging that he had met with allies in the northwestern province of Siem Reap prior to the June 5 vote for commune council seats and discussed politics.

Kem Sokha was released from pre-trial detention to house arrest in September 2018 and granted bail in November 2019 by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, the terms of which allowed him to travel within Cambodia but restricted him from taking part in any political activities.

An undercover investigator recorded one of the conversations, which was used as evidence in Wednesday’s proceedings.

Kem Sokha was allowed to return home when the court session ended at 2 p.m.

“The deputy prosecutor thought it was a political activity, but the defense thinks otherwise,” his lawyer Phen Heng said.

Kem Sokha is not part of any political party recognized by the Ministry of Interior. The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) — which he co-founded with Sam Rainsy, who is living in self-exile in France — was dissolved by Cambodia’s Supreme Court in November 2017, two months after he was arrested 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.

Kem Sokha therefore could not have been engaging in politics, his lawyer argued.

Wednesday’s hearing was the 46th session of the trial that started prior to the coronavirus pandemic. While the trial was delayed by the court’s closure during the height of the pandemic, critics believe that since then the authorities have been stalling in an attempt to keep Kem Sokha out of the public sphere to curb his political influence.

During the 46th session, the court did not address the underlying charges against Kem Sokha, but focused instead on his recent activities.

The case against Kem Sokha is clearly politically motivated, Yi Sok San, a senior monitor for the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (Adhoc), said.

“I urge the government to differentiate between politics and law,” he said, adding that it was not fair to raise the new allegation against Kem Sokha without informing the defense.

CPP spokesperson Chhim Phall Vorun said that the government’s case is not politically motivated.

 

 

SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES

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