Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Kem Sokha lawyers continue to ask for end to treason case

Former opposition leader Kem Sokha. Stringer

Lawyers for former opposition leader Kem Sokha said on Sunday that they were still working to have the treason charge against Sokha dropped almost two years after his arrest on September 3, 2017.

Sokha, former president of the dissolved CNRP, was jailed for a year before being released into court supervision at his house in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kok district, where he has remained under effective house arrest.

Chan Chen, one of Sokha’s lawyers, said the former opposition leader’s legal team had already made several requests to the court to have the charge dropped.

“Our stance is still to demand that the court drop the charge,” Chan said.

Sokha also needed to be allowed out of his house for medical treatment, he added.

“Mr. Sokha’s health problems require expert doctors and medical equipment,” he said.

Sokha was arrested after authorities accused him of colluding with the U.S. to topple the government; he was charged with treason over a 2013 video in which he allegedly said the U.S. had assisted him in his political career.

In the following months, the Supreme Court in November 2017 dissolved the CNRP and banned 118 of its senior members from politics for five years.

Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said the lawyers had the right to defend their client and ask the court to drop charges.

However, “the request from his lawyers has no new evidence,” Malin said, noting that whether to drop the charge or allow Sokha to seek medical treatment abroad were matters for the investigating judge alone to decide.

“He is under supervision, so he has been given some conditions about who can meet and where he can go,” he said.

Political analyst Meas Nee said he did not believe the case would be decided by the court.

“I still think that Kem Sokha’s case is a political issue,” Nee said. “This case belongs to politicians, so its resolution depends on politicians.”

It did not matter how many times Sokha’s lawyers made their case to the court, he said.

“If the politicians reach an understanding with each other, Kem Sokha will be released immediately,” Nee said.

Investigating Judge Ky Rithy could not be reached for comment.

In January, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court denied a plea from Sokha’s lawyers to drop the treason charge against him.

In May 2018, eight witnesses were called in the case, including senior officials from human rights NGOs and CPP spokesman Chhim Phal Virun, who was Mr Sokha’s former deputy at the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.