The Supreme Court yesterday denied bail to jailed opposition CNRP leader Kem Sokha who has been charged with treason for allegedly conspiring with the US to overthrow the government.
Mr Sokha was arrested on September 3 over comments made in 2013 video footage from Australia-based CBN news, which showed him saying the US government had been helping him to push for regime change in Cambodia since 1993.
Mr Sokha’s lawyers argued that his arrest and detention was illegal because his parliamentary immunity had been violated.
Judge Khim Pon said the Court of Appeal had correctly upheld the municipal court’s decision to deny Mr Sokha bail because his release could pose a security issue.
“This case seriously affects national security,” Mr Ponn said. “The Supreme Court has decided to uphold the verdict of the Court of Appeal.”
Hundreds of police forces and security guards barricaded the perimeter of the courthouse to prevent CNRP lawmakers and activists from gathering to support Mr Sokha, who did not attend the hearing.
Sam Sokong, Mr Sokha’s lead lawyer, said he was disappointed with the court’s decision.
“The Supreme Court did not fully consider what our lawyers argued,” he said. “We can’t accept the decision of the Supreme Court because it has not provided justice to Mr Sokha.”
During the hearing, Mr Sokha’s lawyer Hem Socheat also argued the presence of Mr Sokha, who was not transported to the court from Trapaing Phlong prison in Thbong Khmum province, was necessary.
“With the accused being absent, it is like an artificial hearing,” he said.
Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said bail should have been granted.
“It is essential that any person deprived of his or her liberty be permitted to challenge the lawfulness of his/her detention before an objective, independent and impartial court,” Ms Sopheap said.
Ms Sopheap added that while trials in absentia were not impermissible under human rights law, they were limited to exceptional circumstances where the accused had unequivocally, and with full informed consent, waived his or her right to attend the trial.
However, Chin Malin, spokesman for the Ministry of Justice, said he supported the Supreme Court’s decision.
“It does not matter if the hearing was held in absentia because it is not a full trial yet,” he said.