Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Appeal Court Questions Kem Sokha on Alleged Evidence of Treason in Melbourne Speech

Security staff restricted access around the Appeal Court as police vehicles escorted Kem Sokha to his hearing on February 8, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)
Security staff restricted access around the Appeal Court as police vehicles escorted Kem Sokha to his hearing on February 8, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

The Phnom Penh Appeal Court continued questioning former opposition party leader Kem Sokha on Thursday in the second appeal hearing for his treason conviction, asking him about the formation of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) and his past statements, according to Sokha’s defense lawyer Ang Oudom.

“[Sokha] answered questions about what he had done to strengthen democracy and respect human rights,” Oudom said after the Thursday hearing. 

Oudom said court officials focused their questions on the NGO CCHR, where Sokha was a president, and his grassroots organizing efforts related to human rights and democracy. 

The court also asked about a video of a speech Sokha made in Melbourne in 2013, which has been used as evidence by the government to allege that the politician conspired with the U.S. government. 

A government transcript of footage of the speech was presented in court in Sokha’s original trial. The former opposition leader appears to say that the U.S. has supported him since he entered politics in 1993. In court Thursday, Oudom said Sokha was questioned about a part of the video where he appears to say “before changing the top level, we need to uproot the lower one.”

The former CNRP president Sokha was found guilty of treason and sentenced to 27 years in prison in March last year. He was arrested in 2017 for allegedly conspiring with the U.S to carry out a so-called color revolution in order to overthrow the government. Two months later, the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP. 

In addition to the prison sentence, the lower court banned Sokha from doing politics for life. The court has also barred him from any communication with people other than family members without the court’s permission.

Police officers, military police and other security staff were stationed near the Appeal Court on Thursday, as they were on the first day of the trail on January 30. 

The court limited the number of people permitted into the courtroom to about 30. A CamboJA reporter registered at the court on Tuesday to attend the hearing, but on Wednesday a court official informed the reporter he would not be able to attend due to lack of space. The same series of events occurred at the first hearing last week, with a registered CamboJA News reporter told the room would be full the day before the hearing.

Sokha refused to answer some questions, telling the court he had already answered them during his original trial in Phnom Penh Municipal Court, according to Yi Soksan, a senior official with the human rights NGO Adhoc who attended the trial. Soksan said Sokha requested for the trial process be expedited because he is not in good health.

“I think that politicians should negotiate, that’s a better way, because the accused person [Sokha] has also raised the point that only [political] negotiation can resolve this issue,” Soksan said. 

Ruling party CPP spokesperson Sok Eysan said that there can be no political negotiation with the defendant Kem Sokha as he has been convicted of treason.

“It is​ absolutely impossible for the ruler to negotiate with the traitor,” he said. “If you are imprisoned, and then can negotiate, that will not bring order to the country in enforcing the law and obeying the law.”

At last week’s hearing, the Appeal Court rejected a request from Sokha’s legal team to allow him to contact his attorneys without prior authorization from the court. International human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch again called for Sokha’s immediate release at the start of his appeal trial last week.

Following Sokha’s March 2023 conviction, UN experts said they believe the conviction was “politically motivated” and part of a pattern of “the misapplication of laws to target political opponents and any critic of the Government.”

The next hearing, the third of nine expected hearing dates, is scheduled for February 22.