UN rights envoy reiterates call for Kem Sokha’s freedom

Taing Vida / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Rhona Smith meets with Justice Ministry officials. KT/Chor Sokunthea

The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia yesterday reiterated concerns over the prosecution of former CNRP leader Kem Sokha during a meeting with Justice Ministry officials.

Rhona Smith, the special rapporteur, is in the Kingdom to follow up the issue of human rights.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting with the ministry, Ms Smith said she brought up the country’s justice system, social accountability, and the independence of judiciaries.

She said that the meeting mainly focused on what the government has done since her last visit, in which a number of recommendations were presented, including the full release of Mr Sokha.

“My view’s already very clear, and on record, that although he is – in a technical, legal sense, according to the Ministry of Justice – under judicial supervision, in my view, he is still under de facto detention because of the limitations placed on him by judicial supervision,” she said.

She said that Mr Sokha’s release isn’t up to the Justice Ministry, but it is up to the court. However, she said that the court is recommended to either drop Mr Sokha’s charges or speed up his case and lift his restrictive bail conditions.

Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin yesterday said Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana pointed out that Mr Sokha’s current predicament is not “detention”.

“We explained to her that Mr Sokha is not in detention,” Mr Malin said. “The court restricted his movement to ensure his own safety.”

“This is a big criminal case that involves many suspects,” he added. “If we let him go where he wants, he could encounter problems.”

Mr Sokha was released on bail in September 2018 after spending about a year in prison without trial. His movement was restricted to a four-block radius around his house and he was banned from meeting any ex-CNRP officials or individuals seemingly linked to his case.

Additionally, Mr Malin said Justice Ministry officials updated Ms Smith about the government’s efforts in judicial reform, such as providing free legal aid to those who are impoverished. He added that the Ministry is also pushing forward with local judicial service centres and education programmes aimed to support greater use of judicial supervision.

He noted that Ms Smith recommended that a fair trial must be held within a reasonable time after the initial arrest of a suspect, and that courts should increase the use of non-custodial sentencing in situations deemed appropriate, in order to reduce prison overcrowding.

Rights group Licadho last year issued a report saying that the Kingdom’s prison population is growing. It called on the country’s judicial system to grant bail to those suspected of committing non-violent crimes as a solution to decrease overcrowding.

The report noted that in 18 prisons monitored by the rights group, more than a third of prisoners, or 9,527 out of 25,926 detainees, were in jail awaiting trial. In some prisons, nearly half of inmates have yet to face trial, it said.

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