Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Kem Sokha says he believes in Cambodia’s courts

Fomermer opposition leader Kem Sokha arrived at the Phnom Penh municipal Court. Camboja

Former opposition leader Kem Sokha said he attends his treason trial because he believes Cambodia’s frequently criticized courts will make a just ruling in his favor.

“I think the court will provide justice for me,” Sokha said on Thursday morning on his way to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

Some had criticized him for participating in the trial despite the courts’ reputation as politically controlled, he said. However, he lived in Cambodia and it was important for him to attend, he said.

“I hope that the court will consider what I say in the courtroom to decide with justice, to show that this court is not a court like they accuse it of being — that it is under orders from a political party or a powerful person,” he said.

Sokha, president of the main opposition CNRP — dissolved by Supreme Court order in 2017 — was charged with conspiring with a foreign power for allegedly working with the U.S. to overthrow the government. Through the first few weeks of his trial, Sokha has maintained that he has only acted legitimately and transparently to try to win an election.

Cambodia’s courts have been frequently criticized, with CNRP co-founder Sam Rainsy repeatedly calling it a “kangaroo court” for the slew of convictions handed down against him. Rainsy lives in Paris to evade the sentences.

The Supreme Court chief justice is a member of the ruling CPP’s permanent committee, and Human Rights Watch has called the country’s courts “government-controlled.”

Deputy prosecutor Vong Bunvisoth could not be reached for comment, and Ky Tech, a lawyer representing the government, did not speak to reporters after Thursday’s hearings.

Soeng Senkaruna, spokesman for human rights group Adhoc, said the trial, which has focused on Sokha’s past activities, was complicated, and if there was no clear evidence to convict Sokha, he should be acquitted.

Many Cambodian people have already lost faith in the courts, and a political decision in Sokha’s case will make the situation worse, he said.

“It showed that this is the strategy of the ruling party to put pressure on the opposition party,” Senkaruna said.

Sokha’s trial will continue next week.