Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Kem Sokha’s house arrest lifted; opposition leader still barred from political activities

Former opposition leader Kem Sokh, file photo. Stringer

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has expanded the range that opposition leader Kem Sokha can travel from 1 km around his house to the whole of the country, Sokha’s lawyer Pheng Heng told reporters on Sunday.

However, Sokha still faces up to 30 years in jail for treason and is barred from conducting any political activities.

Sokha, the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party’s (CNRP) president, was arrested in September 2017 for allegedly working with the U.S. to overthrow the government. The Supreme Court dissolved the party two months later, and in July 2018 the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) swept all 125 seats in the National Assembly.

Speaking outside Sokha’s house in Tuol Kork district on Sunday, Heng said the new court supervision order was less severe than the last, which restricted Sokha’s movements to 1,000 meters around his house.

“We just received the letter from the court today, so we need to get more clarity from them about whether Sokha can talk with people, or talk to the press,” Heng said, explaining it was unclear what activities could be considered “political” by the courts.

“Our team of lawyers sent a letter requesting the court to drop the charge,” he added.

Sokha has not left his house since he was released from jail last year, about a year after his arrest.

Both the CNRP and foreign governments have attempted to put pressure on Cambodia over Sokha’s case, including party co-founder Sam Rainsy vowing — and failing — to return to Cambodia over the weekend.

Rainsy instead flew from France to Malaysia, where he is scheduled to have meetings with local politicians. Most senior leaders remain outside the country and dozens of supporters within Cambodia have been arrested.

The EU, meanwhile, is due to submit to the Cambodian government its report on whether it would suspend the country’s duty-free access to its markets under the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) scheme.

Former CNRP lawmaker Long Botta told CamboJA that the party was making five demands to the government, though he did not explain what leverage he thought his party had.

The first demand was the unconditional release of Sokha, he said.

“So even that first condition is not fully implemented,” Botta said. “I think Hun Sen is trying to make a case in relation to the EU’s decision about the EBA. My guess is it will not work.”

Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson also said that if the court’s decision was intended as a concession to the EU, it was not enough.

“Kem Sokha’s release from house detention is a last minute attempt to deflect European anger at the shoddy way PM Hun Sen and Cambodia have dealt with human rights concerns raised in the EBA process,” Robertson said in a statement. “But it’s really too little, too late for the EBA preliminary determination on November 12.”

“Only in Hun Sen’s repressive Cambodia would releasing someone from house arrest after holding them for two years on politically fabricated allegations be considered ‘progress’ of some sort,” he added.

Sokha wrote on his Facebook page on Monday that he intended to greet his supporters outside his house in the near future.