Former CNRP leader Kem Sokha yesterday in court defended the creation of his Human Rights Party after a deputy prosecutor questioned him on whether the United States financed the party.
Sokha created HRP in 2007 and it participated in the 2008 general election and won three National Assembly seats. It merged with the Sam Rainsy Party in 2012 to form the Cambodia National Rescue Party, which was dissolved by the Supreme Court in 2017 after Sokha was jailed on a treason charge.
The creation of HRP was placed under the spotlight after a 2013 video interview of Sokha by Australian broadcaster CBN was admitted as evidence in court. In the video, Sokha allegedly said the United States had been helping in pushing for a regime change in the Kingdom.
Sokha denied he created the HRP as a vessel for the US funding after deputy prosecutor Theam Piseth asked questions on whether the US financed the party’s creation.
“I did create the Human Rights Party in order to contest free and fair elections,” he said. “My purpose was to make positive changes through elections, not topple the government through a colour revolution.”
“The party was funded by the Khmers and party members including those abroad,” Sokha said.
The court then played an audio clip of Sokha allegedly speaking to a man identified by the court as Dean Bear, who was the US undersecretary of state in charge of foreign affairs in 2012.
“We have asked the US government through undersecretary of state [Dean Bear] to provide funds to the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute in helping political parties who work on human rights and democracy,” Sokha allegedly said in the audio clip.
Chan Chen, one of Sokha’s lawyers, in court said the HRP was created to help citizens, not to topple the government.
“My client was working within the framework of the law, he focused on human right principles and democracy,” Mr Chen said. “He did not act to overthrow the government and use violence.”
Government lawyer Ky Tech outside the courtroom said what was presented in court yesterday made it clear Sokha created the HRP.
“Everyone knows he created the political party but his activities were different from what was allowed by the Interior Ministry,” Mr Tech said. “Kem Sokha wants to prove he is innocent, but we have a lot of evidence to show he colluded and conspired with foreigners.”
Political parties in Cambodia are required to register at the Interior Ministry and be approved before contesting in any election, according to the Law on Political Parties.