Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Phnom Penh Judges accept new evidence against Kem Sokha

Kem Sokha greets supporters while leaving the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after attending his hearing on January 19, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang
Kem Sokha greets supporters while leaving the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after attending his hearing on January 19, 2022. CamboJA/Pring Samrang

Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday agreed to accept the prosecution’s new evidence against former opposition leader Kem Sokha, despite the objections of the defense.

“The judges agreed to accept new evidence because it is relevant to the case file,” Presiding Judge Koy Sao announced. 

Sokha, former leader of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), is currently on trial for charges dating back to September 2017. He was arrested and charged with conspiring with a foreign power for allegedly working with the US to attempt to overthrow the government.

The CNRP was dissolved by Supreme Court order in 2017, allegedly for serving as a vehicle for that same attempted revolution. As part of the decision, more than 100 CNRP members were barred from political engagement for five years.

At Wednesday’s hearing the prosecution replayed and debated a short audio clip of a private phone conversation recorded in June this year involving former senior CNRP official Ho Vann and an unnamed party.

In the recording Vann spoke about demonstrations he’d been involved with after the 2013 election and how he’d helped transport workers to the demonstration.

Vann didn’t mention Sokha in the call, but the prosecutor said that as Sokha was leader of the CNRP at the time and Vann was a colleague, it proved he too was involved with demonstrations by garment workers at Stung Meanchey. 

Sokha’s defense team has said the new evidence is only intended to prolong the trial and that the demonstrations referred to in the recording weren’t under their client’s control.

Sokha has repeatedly said he was only responsible for protests at Freedom Park that demanded the creation of an independent committee to investigate irregularities in the 2013 election.

“Any activities were outside Freedom Park, my client wasn’t in-charge,” lawyer Chan Chen told CamboJA after the hearing. “They’re trying to connect my client to things he wasn’t involved with. It’s just wasting time.”

In addition, at Wednesday’s hearing the prosecution played a new 10-minute video clip of a demonstration and roadblock on Veng Sreng street in Phnom Penh in 2014, during which garment workers  were protesting for a wage increase. The clip included people who had come to distribute food to the demonstrators and said they were representatives of Ho Vann.

The prosecution strategy seems to be to link Sokha to Vann, who is in self-imposed exile and was convicted in absentia to 20 years imprisonment for treason in 2021.

Yi Soksan, a senior monitor at rights group Adhoc, said that it’s obvious the trial against Sokha “is politically motivated,” while Am Sam Ath, operation director at rights group Licadho, said the new evidence was intended to slow things down.

“The submission of evidence gradually will cause a lot of debate and prolong the trial,” he said.

“Kem Sokha will not be able to compete in next year’s elections because his trial won’t have finished yet.,” Mr. Sam Ath added.