Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Kem Sokha’s family facing intimidation, lawyers say at arrest’s two-year mark

Kem Sokha
Former opposition leader Kem Sokha with his family. Facebook

A lawyer for detained opposition leader Kem Sokha said his client’s family members were facing “intimidating” surveillance as the arrest marked two years on Monday.

Sokha, former president of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, was arrested in September 2017 on a treason charge and jailed. He was released a year later but ordered remain within a few blocks of his home in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district.

On Monday, several plainclothes police officers with walkie talkies were seen a few hundred meters outside Sokha’s home, sleeping on hammocks and checking a telephone.

“His rights and freedoms are tightly restricted as required by the investigating judge’s decision. Even the family, especially his wife, is being monitored in an intimidating way,” one of Sokha’s lawyers, Chan Chen, said via WhatsApp.

“People in front of the house try to take pictures of people who go in and out, even when lawyers go in to visit the client,” Chen said.

“Relatives of the family are also being photographed when they go anywhere, such as going to a market. Civilian clothes people often follow and take pictures of them,” he said.

Former opposition leader Kem Sokha. Panha Chhorpoan

Sokha’s daughter Kem Monovithya said her father meditates, reads the news online and gardens while in house arrest just to let the days go by.

“He meditates, he reads the news and he grows vegetables in our garden at home,” Monovithya said, adding that her father also needs urgent medical attention on his left shoulder.

“He has not received any medical treatment, he still needs surgery on his left shoulder. We don’t know the status of his shoulder or his overall health because that would require a medical professional to diagnose,” she said.

Monovithya called the detention outrageous and hoped that one day he will be freed.

“It’s clear from the start, the arrest, that this is outrageous and it’s one of the darkest turns in Cambodian history,” Monovithya said. “But I think this is far from over and I believe he will prevail.”

In a Facebook post on Monday, Sokha said the police raid at his home two years ago had been his most hurtful experience, comparing it to when his father was arrested by the Khmer Rouge in 1975.

“Tonight, two years ago, the armed forces stormed into my home at midnight, separating me from my wife, who had no idea where they were taking me and what they were doing with me,” Sokha wrote.

“My wife’s tears that night was the most painful that anyone would ever experience,” he said.

Former CNRP vice president Mu Sochua called for the immediate release of Sokha, as the “unconstitutional” detention was among the reasons the EU was considering suspending Cambodia’s access to the Everything But Arms (EBA) trade scheme, which allows the country to export everything duty-free except weapons.

“Hun Sen holds the key to the unavoidable economic and social crises should Cambodia lose the EU market. Free President Kem Sokha while there is still a window of opportunity,” Sochua said.

Sokha was arrested and charged after Hun Sen’s government accused him of conspiring with the United States to overthrow his government in 2013. A trial date hasn’t been set yet.

At the request of the government, the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP and banned 118 of its members from politics for five years.

The CNRP’s dissolution and Sokha’s arrest came just months before the July 2018 national election, in which Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party won all 125 parliamentary seats.

The election was criticized by rights groups and Western nations as flawed while the U.S. and European Union have threatened to cut off aid and sanction senior government officials.

Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said that there has been no new evidence or testimony in favor of Sokha presented to court, and denied there had been any intimidation against the accused’s family members.

Malin said he was unaware of the details of how authorities were monitoring Sokha’s house, but said any monitoring would be aimed only at protecting the accused.

“The intimidation is a one-sided story. In general, as Kem Sokha is under court supervision, anyone involved is being monitored so Kem Sokha can be protected and it is also a benefit for the investigation,” Malin said.