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Court Warns Kem Sokha to Cease ‘Political Activity’

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

A Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge on Wednesday rejected the prosecution’s request that former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha be rearrested for allegedly violating his bail conditions.

The prosecution in Mr. Sokha’s long-running trial had asked that the opposition politician again be taken into custody for meeting supporters and engaging in political activity. Mr. Sokha has said his activities were not political and he only ever visited citizens in need of charitable help.

Mr. Sokha is on trial for treason, charged with conspiring with a foreign power to overthrow the Cambodian government. He has denied all charges.

After Wednesday’s five-hour hearing, Judge Koy Sao said Mr. Sokha could remain on bail, but warned him to cease all political activity.

 “The court has found that the defendant Kem Sokha has really violated the court supervision and the ban on engaging in politics,” Judge Sao said. “If he still continues to violate the rules, the court will issue an arrest warrant immediately.” 

The judge said it was evident Mr. Sokha was trying to maintain influence with his supporters and was planning to create a political party.

During the hearing the prosecution played an audio recording of Mr. Sokha meeting supporters in Siem Reap province on June 22, in which he spoke about the progress of his court case, the recent commune elections, and his split from former fellow leader Sam Rainsy.

But in his address to the court, the former politician said: “I spoke carefully [with supporters] and I didn’t speak about creating a political party.”

Pheng Heng, Mr. Sokha’s defense lawyer, told reporters after the hearing that it wasn’t clear what constituted “political activity” under the court’s conditions.

“We are not satisfied, but what the court has decided we have to respect,” Mr. Heng said.

Supporters outside former CNRP president Kem Sokha’s trial at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on June 29, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Yi Soksan, a senior investigator at rights group Adhoc who attended the hearing, said the entire treason case against Mr. Sokha is politically motivated and there was insufficient proof.

He said that Mr. Sokha does not even belong to a political party any more and that his past interactions with supporters have consisted of casual visits and meals shared with friends and acquaintances.

The CNRP, the country’s main opposition, was dissolved by Supreme Court order in 2017 and Mr. Sokha has been barred from leaving the country and under court supervision since his release from pre-trial detention in November 2019.

Chum Hout, a senior official from the opposition Cambodia National Love Party, who was outside the court, said Mr. Sokha’s rights were being violated by the court because he should be allowed to meet with people and it was clear his meetings hadn’t been political in nature.

Mr. Huot said the whole treason trial is just an excuse to ban Mr. Sokha from participating in politics at home local and abroad. (Additional reporting by Sovann Sreypich)

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