Former opposition leader Kem Sokha’s treason trial began at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday, more than two years after his arrest for allegedly colluding with the United States to topple the government.
Sokha along with his team of lawyers arrived at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court at about 7.30am. Journalists were not allowed to enter the court compound and had to stand across the street opposite the court.
Hundreds of riot police and military police officers were deployed around the courthouse to ensure security and public order, while about 100 supporters of Sokha stood across the street.
After the morning session, Sokha on Facebook reiterated his innocence.
“I continue to demand that the court permanently drop the charge against me so that I can fully exercise my political freedom…in serving and defending the interests of the country and the people,” he said in the post. “I categorically deny the charge of ‘conspiracy with foreign powers’ which was brought against me.”
“I did not bring in foreign states or foreign agents to conduct hostility or invasion against the Kingdom of Cambodia,” the 67-year-old added. “I did not commit anything of which I am accused…especially I haven’t committed any acts that would be detrimental to the national interests.”
Sokha said that his activities were focused on human rights and democracy…in peaceful and non-violent manners following the Kingdom’s constitution.
“My political activities were focused on participating in free, fair, and just elections that truly reflect the will of the Cambodian people,” he said.
Sokha was apprehended in September 2017. Two months later, the CNRP was dissolved by the Supreme Court.
He spent a year behind bars on treason charges in Trapeang Phlong prison over comments made in a 2013 video, saying the US had been helping him push for regime change in Cambodia.
Chan Chen, one of Sokha’s four lawyers, yesterday after the hearing said he argued the video footage was cut, edited and placed out of context.
“He said that he could not accept video footage because it was cut and edited as evidence to inculpate him,” Mr Chen said. “So we asked the court to play full footage for more than one hour as he spoke to his supporters in Australia.”
“We have about one hour of video footage to exculpate Kem Sokha,” he said.
Speaking to reporters outside of the court yesterday, government lawyer Ky Tech said that during the hearing Sokha acknowledge the footage’s authenticity.
“Kem Sokha recognises that it is his real image and his voice in the video clip,” Mr Tech said.
Mr Tech said the court set a time frame for Sokha to recall his entire political career until 2017.
“This afternoon, the court questioned him over his activities committed between 1993 and 2007,” he said.
The trial will continue today.
One of Sokha’s supporters, Prom Muny, 68, said he rallied in front of the courthouse because he wanted to see a fair trial.
“The public should be allowed to listen to the trial. Why is our freedom being restricted?” Mr Muny said.
A 43-year-old woman who declined to be named said she hopes Sokha will be freed.
“I came here to support Kem Sokha because of what he has done for development in our country, especially in building a genuine democracy,” she said.
Chak Sopheap, executive director of Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the CCHR was unable to directly monitor the hearing yesterday.
“Public hearings are a vital accountability tool to prevent abuses by the judiciary, a tool that has been severely compromised in this case by the introduction of a system which appears to have allowed the court to pick and choose in a non-transparent manner who may observe,” Ms Sopheap said.
“The handling of the case thus far is already littered with concerns regarding adherence to fair trial standards, and it is therefore paramount that Kem Sokha’s trial is scrutinised by the public to ensure fair trial standards are upheld and justice is delivered,” she said.