Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

After two years, court closes investigation into treason charge against Kem Sokha

Former opposition leader Kem Sokha. Stringer

A Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge on Friday closed the investigation into the treason charge against Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha more than two years after his arrest.

Sokha, who was the president of the dissolved CNRP, was arrested in September 2017 for treason and jailed. He was released on bail a year later but ordered to remain within a few blocks of his home in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district.

In a notice to Sokha’s lawyer Pheng Heng, Investigating Judge Khy Rithy wrote that he “decides to close the investigation from this time onward.”

Contacted by phone, Heng said “we still demand that all charges are dropped” before declining to comment further, saying the legal team would hold a meeting to discuss what to do next.

Sokha’s daughter Kem Monovithya said the next step was for the case to go to trial or for the charge to be dropped.

“Investigating judge closes the investigation on Kem Sokha’s case. Next step is either the prosecutor drops the charges or takes the case to trial. We demand that all charges be dropped,” Monovithya wrote on Twitter.

The conditions on Sokha’s ongoing judicial supervision, which had placed him under effective house arrest, were also relaxed on Sunday, allowing him to hold a series of meetings with foreign ambassadors this week.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Hun Sen also asked the Justice Ministry to work with the courts to grant bail to CNRP activists arrested this year for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government. Hun Sen said more than 70 CNRP activists had been arrested ahead of the planned return of acting party president Sam Rainsy on Nov. 9.

Rainsy, who has been living abroad since late 2015 to evade court cases against him, failed to return to Cambodia, saying he was prevented from boarding a flight from Paris to Cambodia’s neighbor Thailand.

The easing of pressure on Hun Sen’s political opponents came as the European Union on Tuesday submitted its preliminary report on suspending the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) trade preferences with Cambodia over human rights and political concerns.

European Union trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said that the Cambodian government had one month to respond to the report, which wasn’t made public, before a final decision is made in February next year.

On Twitter, CNRP vice president Mu Sochua said the moves made by Hun Sen this week did not amount to a solution for Cambodian democracy.

“One piece at a time tactic is not the comprehensive solution to sustainable democracy that Cambodia needs,” Sochua wrote. “Clearly, Hun Sen is lining up the chess game for his victory in 2023.”

The ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) swept all 125 National Assembly seats in a national election last year following the CNRP’s dissolution. The next national election is due in 2023.

In a press statement, ruling party spokesman Sok Eysan said whether or not to drop the charge against Sokha would depend only on the judiciary.

“No one else besides the court has the right to drop the charge against Kem Sokha. Kem Sokha’s case is in the court’s hands and there is nothing for the royal government to do to respond to any countries’ demands,” Eysan said.

“The trial of Kem Sokha will be based on facts, not based on any demands from any country.”