Cambodia: Bogus treason case against opposition leader must be dropped

The Cambodian authorities’ treason charges against Kem Sokha, the leader of the country’s banned main opposition party, are bogus and should be dropped ahead of his trial hearing tomorrow, Amnesty International has said.

Sokha, the President of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), faces up to 30 years imprisonment if found guilty of treason at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

Sokha, 66, was arrested in a midnight raid on his home in Phnom Penh in September 2017 and later charged with “conspiracy with a foreign power”, or treason. He is accused of conspiring with the United States government to illegally overthrow the Cambodian government.

The arrest occurred despite Sokha holding parliamentary immunity to prosecution. Authorities justified the arrest on the basis that the crime was ‘flagrant’, even though the only evidence presented was a video of a speech by Sokha from 2013.

In the heavily-edited video released by pro-government media prior to his initial arrest, Sokha can be seen speaking to CNRP supporters in Australia. During the speech, Sokha tells supporters that he has received information from advisers from the US in relation to effecting a change in the political leadership of Cambodia. There is no suggestion of violence or the use of force in the video excerpt.

Since 2017, the CNRP has faced politically-motivated accusations that it has colluded with the US government to foment a so-called “colour revolution”, characterised as a coup by the Cambodian authorities. This accusation formed the basis of the arbitrary dissolution of the CNRP by the Supreme Court in November 2017.

Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Regional Director, said:

“After two years held in arbitrary detention, the authorities have not presented a shred of credible evidence to support a charge of treason.

“This prosecution, much like the allegations of a US-backed plot to overthrow the Cambodian government, has lacked credibility from day one. The non-existent crime was politically manufactured to further the suppression of the opposition party.

“Over the past three years, the Cambodian authorities have weaponised the criminal justice system as a means of eliminating the CNRP. The dissolution of the party and the targeting of hundreds of its members through the courts constitute a concerted campaign of harassment against the political opposition.

“Kem Sokha’s charges must be voided and the rights of CNRP members must be fully respected to enable them to freely participate without discrimination in Cambodia’s political life once again.

“The Phnom Penh Court must acquit Kem Sokha to bring an end to this mockery of justice.”

Restricted access to trial

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court announced on 9 January that no more than 30 people will be able to observe the trial due to space limitations, and that all observers must register in advance. Many independent journalists and human rights monitors fear they are being denied access to observe the trial.

Nicholas Bequelin said:

“The authorities are clearly trying to limit scrutiny of this politically-motivated trial. The gravity of these absurd accusations demands that the authorities uphold the highest standards of fairness and transparency, which requires holding a public hearing.

“It is essential that human rights monitors and journalists are given unhindered access to the trial.”

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