The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday continued the hearing of treason charges against former opposition leader Kem Sokha, focusing on short videos the prosecution alleges are proof the politician intended to overthrow the government.
During a three-hour Tuesday hearing, the court replayed seven video clips alleged to show Sokha colluding with foreigners to seize power after the 2013 election. Each video clip was between one to five minutes and depicted Sokha at various places and events, speaking mostly in his capacity as an opposition figure.
In one, Sokha and exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy, were recorded speaking at a mass demonstration at Freedom Park in which Sokha had demanded a minimum wage for workers in Kampong Cham province. In another, Sokha is seen speaking on the merger between the Human Rights Party and Sam Rainsy Party in the Philippines – the political union that birthed the CNRP.
“We have met with the superpower embassies,” Sokha had said, as recorded in the clip from a rally on December 27, 2013, in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park. “We are not alone, and they have praised workers [who] had a joint demonstration with CNRP.”
Another clip recorded at a rally two days later at the park, shows Sam Rainsy talking about gathering a group of 1 million people in Phnom Penh, including members of the armed forces, for a mass movement demanding “Hun Sen step down.”
“This video clip shows the defendant Kem Sokha has colluded with foreigners, that is a dangerous act for the country,” said deputy prosecutor Plang Sophal during the Tuesday hearing.
Sokha, who was president of the CNRP, was arrested September 3, 2017, and charged with conspiring with a foreign power for allegedly working with the US to attempt a so-called color revolution to overthrow the government of the ruling CPP.
Sokha has maintained that he has only acted legitimately and transparently to try to win an election.
The CNRP was dissolved in 2017 by the Supreme Court, with scores of party members arrested on what are widely believed to be politically motivated charges. Its top leaders went into exile and more than 100 members were barred from political participation for five years
Co-defense lawyer Chan Chen said that the video clips shown in court had already been presented and addressed by his client Sokha.
“[They] just expressed opinions and were permitted by the law,” Chen said of the videos.
Chen also said he was disappointed the court does not regularly conduct hearings for the trial from Monday to Friday, noting that scheduling just one day of proceedings per week cannot advance the case and is affecting his client’s work as a politician.
Presiding judge Koy Sao replied that the court decided on its hearing schedule because court officials are also busy with other cases. The judge also said a treason case is very complicated and related to national security, which means it requires time to conduct the trial.
Soeng Senkaruna, a senior investigator with the rights group Adhoc, attended the hearing on Tuesday and said the trial isn’t making much progress. He said the videos played by the court have already been discussed in a previous hearing.
“As we have mentioned, if there is no progress toward a political settlement, the case remains prolonged,” he said. “The linking evidence is difficult to inculpate Kem Sokha because those video clips didn’t show which state foreigners were involved with Kem Sokha.”
The trial will continue February 2.