Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Detained Ex-Opposition Leader Kem Sokha Blocked From Meeting With His Lawyers

Former opposition leader Kem Sokha’s lawyers said in a Tuesday statement that they were denied access to their client in violation of his rights, preventing them from discussing a planned appeal against his treason conviction.

“This seriously violates Kem Sokha’s rights as stated in law,” said the statement, circulating on social media.

Sokha’s lawyers said they tried to visit Sokha’s Phnom Penh residence on Tuesday but were blocked by security guards who told them they needed permission from the prosecutor. Sokha has been confined inside his home and barred from any communication besides his relatives, following a 27 year house arrest sentence delivered on March 3 following a years-long trial for allegedly inciting a “color revolution.” 

One of Sokha’s lawyers, Ang Oudom, told CamboJA that the purpose of the meeting had been to discuss Sokha’s appeal, which must be filed within a month of the verdict.

“We can’t do anything right now, and the process of appealing has been hampered, undermining the rights of the attorneys and Sokha’s,” Oudom said. 

Oudom said that lawyers have rights to meet their client without requiring permission from prosecutors.

Phnom Penh municipal court said in a Wednesday statement that Sokha and his lawyers’ rights were not being violated and that the lawyers’ statement was false and intended to cause confusion for the public.

“In case lawyers want to meet Kem Sokha, please submit a request to the prosecutor as a written letter or by verbal request in case of emergency,” the statement said.

The judge’s verdict bars Sokha from leaving his home to meet or communicate in-person or online with all people besides family members, unless he receives prior permission from prosecutors.

The judge also banned Sokha from politics for life. Following Sokha’s middle-of-the-night arrest and imprisonment in September 2017, the supreme court dissolved the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) opposition party ahead of the 2018 elections. The CNRP, of which Sokha was president, had been the ruling Cambodian People’s Party’s only significant rival at the time.

Ministry of Justice spokesperson Chhin Malin said in a Wednesday Facebook post that Sokha’s lawyers had to follow the court’s ruling.

“A lawyer must exercise their rights under the law, and the court’s verdict is as powerful as the law, which is binding,” he said. “If the prosecutor does not allow the request, then it is a violation of the lawyer’s right to meet with their client.”

Sok Sam Oeun, chief attorney for the AMRIN Law and Consultants Group, said there is no law requiring lawyers to ask permission to meet with a client under house arrest. But the absence of a clear legal procedure, combined with the judge’s verdict, meant the prosecutor had final say, he claimed.

“Only the prosecutor can control [the case],” Sam Oeun said.

Foreign embassies and the United Nations condemned the verdict against Sokha.

“His trial, built on a fabricated conspiracy, was a miscarriage of justice,” the U.S. Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy, posted on Twitter following Sokha’s conviction.

The European Parliament is scheduled to “debate” and vote on the situation of Kem Sokha this Thursday.