Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Court Schedules Closing Remarks for Kem Sokha Trial in Two Months

Kem Sokha waves from his vehicle as he leaves the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on October 12, 2022. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)
Kem Sokha waves from his vehicle as he leaves the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on October 12, 2022. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday said no more witness testimony would be heard in former opposition leader Kem Sokha’s treason trial, and scheduled closing remarks for December 21. 

Sokha’s lawyers had requested to deliver their closing statements in two weeks, but government lawyers and state prosecutors asked for two to three months of preparation time.

“Two months seems too long,” Sokha said in court. “For me, I am a victim and I want justice as soon as possible.”

Sokha, the former president of the outlawed opposition CNRP, has been on trial for nearly three years following his September 2017 arrest on treason charges. His trial has been repeatedly criticized by human rights groups and Western governments following long delays and sparse evidence.

The CNRP was dissolved by the Supreme Court two months after Sokha’s arrest, following government statements warning of an alleged “color revolution” conspiracy to unseat the long-ruling CPP, allegedly perpetrated by the CNRP with foreign support.

Sokha’s lawyers unsuccessfully objected on Thursday to presiding judge Koy Sao’s decision to end the questioning of witnesses. 

Defense lawyers had argued that representatives of the foreign organizations accused of conspiring with the CNRP, such as the U.S.-funded International Republican Institute, should also be summoned to testify. Nine of the 27 summoned witnesses gave testimony over the course of the trial.

Deputy prosecutor Phlang Sophal accepted the judge’s announcement but said two months was not enough time to prepare because prosecutors had many other court cases to handle.

“This case has taken more time, a huge case and a lot of evidence, witnesses and large documents,” he said.

But one of Sokha’s lawyers, Chan Chen, told reporters after the hearing that he was unhappy with the lengthy timeline and Sokha’s legal team had already prepared their closing arguments.

“We really regret that the court gave a long time,” Chen said. “It isn’t reasonable because it has affected my client’s interests. Two weeks would be a suitable time for all parties to submit their written argument statement.”

Am Sam Ath, operations director at rights group Licadho, said he welcomed the coming conclusion of Sokha’s case, noting the lack of convincing evidence presented throughout the trial.

“We have monitored that case — there is no clear evidence to indicate he has colluded with foreign states,” Sam Ath said.

Still, he added, only a political settlement could finally put an end to the case.

“Then, Kem Sokha can return to the political arena to compete in the election,” he said.