Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Prosecutor introduces new evidence at Kem Sokha treason trial

Cambodian military police arrest protesters during a garment worker protest at Stung Meanchey in Phnom Penh in 2013. Picture taken January 3, 2013. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan
Cambodian military police arrest protesters during a garment worker protest at Stung Meanchey in Phnom Penh in 2013. Picture taken January 3, 2013. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

Prosecutors in former opposition leader Kem Sokha’s treason trial on Wednesday submitted new evidence, which the defense urged the judge to reject saying it was simply delaying the case and showed the prosecution had insufficient evidence to back up its charges.

The prosecution played a short audio clip of a private phone conversation recorded in June this year between former senior Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) official Ho Vann and an unnamed person talking about a demonstration in Stung Meanchey after the 2013 elections that Vann said he’d been involved with.

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 was involved with demonstrations at Freedom Park.

“Workers protested under the leadership of Ho Vann, who is linked to the defendant [Kem Sokha],” said Plang Sophal, deputy prosecutor.

Sokha then addressed the court saying he was only responsible for demonstrations at Freedom Park that demanded the creation of an independent committee to investigate irregularities in the 2013 election.

Other demonstrations were held by garment workers and didn’t involve him as an organizer, he argued.

He said he was not the person in the phone conversation with Ho Vann and said the new evidence was only intended to prolong the trial.

“The submission of additional evidence by the prosecutors has clearly shown they do not have enough evidence to back up their charges,” Sokha told the court. “It is not related at all.”

“It is clear (the prosecutors) do not want to put an end to the case,” Mr. Sokha continued, pointing out that Ho Vann had already been convicted in absentia in his own case.

A worker throws a stone at military police after clashes broke out during a protest in Stung Meanchey in Phnom Penh, Picture taken January 3, 2013. CamboJA/ Panha Chhorpoan

 Co-defense lawyer, Meng Sotheary, asked the presiding judge to reject the additional evidence, saying that the conversation with Ho Vann only happened in June this year 2022 so was out of the scope of the trial.

Kem Sokha was arrested in September 2017 for allegedly attempting to launch a so-called color revolution.

Shortly after his arrest, the CNRP was dissolved by the Supreme Court, with scores of party members arrested on what were widely believed to be politically motivated charges.

Many of its top leaders went into exile, including Ho Vann, and more than 100 party members were barred from political participation for five years.

After years of delays, Sokha’s trial resumed in January 2022, with a hearing held just once a week on Wednesday.

Yi Soksan, a senior monitor at rights group Adhoc, who attended the hearing, said the trial had made no progress this week  because the debate over the prosecutor’s new evidence took up all the time.

“I think that it is a political court because there have been 52 hearings up until now… and prosecutors are still collecting more evidence,” he said.

“It isn’t right the court charged Kem Sokha before they had enough evidence,” Mr. Soksan added.

Presiding Judge Koy Sao said he would make a decision next Wednesday on whether to accept or reject the new evidence.

On his recent trip to Cambodia, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged  Prime Minister Hun Sen to improve political freedoms ahead of the 2023 elections and allow Sokha to participate freely in the political process. 

He also criticized the long-running trial. 

“I met with Kem Sokha during my trip to Phnom Penh. We are disappointed his politically motivated five-year trial persists without resolution,” Secretary Blinken tweeted during his trip.