Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Kem Sokha summoned for treason trial

Former opposition leader Kem Sokh, file photo. Stringer

Former opposition leader Kem Sokha on Tuesday received his summons to attend a trial at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Jan. 15 over treason charges related to allegedly working with the U.S. to topple the government.

Sokha, president of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was arrested in September 2017 amid government pressure on the political opposition, NGOs and news media. The Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP two months after Sokha’s arrest, leading the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to sweep all 125 seats in the National Assembly in July last year.

Muth Chantha, an adviser to Sokha, told CamboJA on Tuesday that Sokha had received the court’s summons in the morning.

While not directly confirming that Sokha would attend, Chantha said Sokha “respects all laws and conditions of the court.”

“He will continue to implement the laws and requirements of the court,” he said.

Sokha’s lawyer, Chan Chen, said he would present his client’s case at the trial, but doubted that the proceedings within the courtroom would ultimately hold sway.

“I think that this is a case of politicians, so politicians should negotiate through political means to unite the nation and end the problem,” Chen said.

Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin could not be reached for comment.

Sokha’s case, which has been before the courts for more than two years, has seen movement since November, with judicial restrictions against Sokha relaxed — releasing him from de facto house arrest — and the investigation into the treason charges closed. Sokha faces up to 30 years in prison for conspiracy with a foreign power if found guilty.

The U.S. and EU have put pressure on the government to drop the charges against Sokha, with the EU looking to potentially suspend duty-free trade with Cambodia unless it sees improvements in the country’s political and human rights record. The EU submitted its preliminary report on the potential suspension of the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) deal in November, and its final decision is due in February.

Political analyst Lao Mong Hay, however, said Sokha had effectively been tried and found guilty already during the Supreme Court hearing in November 2017 that dissolved the CNRP.

“The result of Kem Sokha’s trial is already a foregone conclusion when, on Nov. 16, 2017, the Supreme Court heavily based its ruling to dissolve his party on his [alleged] treason for conspiring with U.S. to topple the government, a crime for which he will be tried on Jan. 15, 2020,” Mong Hay said.