Cambodian opposition leader accused of treason asks court to drop charges

Kem Sokha | Photo: International Federation of Journalists.

A Cambodian opposition leader accused of treason has urged the court in the Southeast Asian country to drop the charges. He denied allegations that he worked with foreign groups to undermine the ruling administration of PM Hun Sen, which stirred widespread criticism amongst Cambodia’s politicians.

The trial for 68 year old Kem Sokha, co-founder of the ousted Cambodia National Rescue Party, has faced delays over the past two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic. If convicted, Kem could be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison.

On his way to court, he told reporters that allegations against him should be dropped by the court so that Cambodia could go forward with national reconciliation and the hope of running in the election in 2023. His trial began in January 2020, two years after his arrest, and the proceedings were postponed two months later as the Covid-19 outbreak surged nationwide.

His party had been disbanded ahead of the following year’s election, in which the Cambodian People’s Party, led by Hun Sen, who had administered the country for 37 years, had won with no rival.

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The opposition leader was jailed in a remote prison before his bail restrictions were modified in November 2019 and then placed under house arrest. More than two dozen activists who had been imprisoned on charges against Hun Sen’s administration were released last year when a court granted them bail.

At Human Rights Watch, Phil Robertson released a statement noting that these politically motivated charges against Sokha should never have been brought in the first place.

“Sadly, it seems the best that Kem Sokha can hope for is a quick pardon from Hun Sen following what will be the inevitable conviction at the end of this already torturously long trial”.

Human Rights Watch reported that at least 60 political prisoners remained in captivity as their mass trials continued in December.


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