Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Court to hear witness testimony in Kem Sokha trial in October

Former CNRP president Kem Sokha waves to supporters in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after judges decided not to re-arrest him on June 29, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
Former CNRP president Kem Sokha waves to supporters in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after judges decided not to re-arrest him on June 29, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Some 20 witnesses are set to testify next month in the long-delayed treason trial of former opposition leader Kem Sokha, court officials said at a hearing on Wednesday.

Presiding judge Koy Sao said the witnesses would be summoned between 5 and 12 October, and Mr. Sokha’s lawyer Meng Sotheary said more than twenty people would be called to testify for both the prosecution and defence.

Also during Wednesday’s four-hour hearing prosecutors questioned Mr. Sokha over a 2014 protest led by Mu Sochua – now in exile – and several other former top CNRP lawmakers.

For several weeks, the trial has focused on the question of whether Mr. Sokha was involved in organizing violent demonstrations by garment workers in Stung Meanchey in January 2014.

Sokha has insisted he was not involved in the garment worker protests but the prosecution has tried to tar him by association, pointing to his CNRP colleagues who were at Stung Meanchey. Mr. Sokha has pointed out that many of those other CNRP officials have already been convicted for organising those protests.

He has maintained he was only involved in protests at Freedom Park, so at the latest hearing, the prosecution played a short video clip of a protest on September 15, 2014, which was led by former opposition leader Mu Sochua, Ho Vann, Meach Sovannara and others.

“We are going to liberate Freedom Park,” Sochua says in the clip.

Mr. Sokha told the court he had not been involved in the protest with Ms. Sochua.

Chhay Hong, deputy prosecutor, responded that if Mr. Sokha wasn’t involved “why didn’t you come out to announce it at the time?”

Chan Cheng, Mr. Sokha’s lawyer, told reporters after leaving the court that it was unjust that prosecutors were trying to link Mr. Sokha to protests at other sites and by other CNRP members. He said the trial was dragging on “without a clear accusation.”

“I have never seen another case that took 56 hearings… it has been going for 5 years so far,” Mr. Cheng said.

Sokha is currently on trial for charges dating back to September 2017. He was arrested and charged with conspiring with a foreign power for allegedly working with the US to attempt to overthrow the government.

The CNRP was dissolved by Supreme Court order in 2017, allegedly for serving as a vehicle for that same attempted revolution. As part of the decision, more than 100 CNRP members were barred from political engagement for five years.

Chak Sopheap, executive director for NGO the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, is one of the witnesses expected to testify in October, but said she has yet to receive a summons.

“When I am, I will appear before the court to answer its questions truthfully and to the best of my knowledge,” she said. “I would however like to reiterate that Kem Sokha should never have been put on trial in the first place.”

She said there had been multiple violations of Kem Sokha’s fair trial rights during the proceedings that illustrated the judiciary’s lack of independence.

“This trial seems to exist not to deliver justice but rather to provide the government with whatever outcome will best serve its interests,” she added.

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