Phnom Penh Governor Khoung Sreng yesterday directed all security personnel to prevent any opposition supporters from observing or protesting CNRP President Kem Sokha’s Supreme Court hearing today regarding his detention on “treason” charges.
Once again, however, the jailed opposition leader will not be present at a hearing related to his detention, according to Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin. An Appeal Court hearing last month took place without Sokha in court. Malin again cited security reasons as the justification for his absence today.
Sokha’s team of lawyers is appealing his detention following his September 3 arrest, which was upheld by the lower court on September 26 – a hearing that his defence team walked out of in protest against the opposition leader’s absence. A small group of lawmakers and party supporters were also prevented from nearing the court.
Speaking to police officers yesterday, Sreng said there was no way authorities were going to allow “anarchic” protests in the city and that security forces in all 12 districts in the capital needed to be on alert today.
“The toughest measures will be applied on the people protesting against the court and [we] won’t forgive those people,” said the governor.
He added that a small group of protesters would not be allowed to take the city ransom and praised capital residents as a whole for not taking to the streets in support of the CNRP.
“Phnom Penh city residents should be praised since they have not thought about this at all,” he said.
“People are happy and they do not care with traitors.”
Sreng’s directive comes two weeks after Interior Minister Sar Kheng instructed provincial officials to prevent people from entering the capital and attempting to protest Sokha’s detention.
Coinciding with Sreng’s directive, increased security personnel – including police, Military Police and members of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s personal Bodyguard Unit – could be seen across Chamkarmon and Daun Penh districts in the city yesterday, with armed officers at many street corners.
Touch Narith, a deputy National Police chief, said the security arrangements were in place for the upcoming Water Festival, set to begin on Thursday, but Chhon Kaony, Chey Chumneas commune police chief, said it was also in anticipation of Sokha’s hearing.
Sokha was barred from attending last month’s hearing ostensibly because of “security concerns” voiced by prison department officials, which will also necessitate his absence from the hearing today, according to Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin.
“It is not necessary [for him] to be present because it involves security problems and public order issues for him. So only his lawyers are enough,” he said yesterday, adding that the situation would be different for a trial hearing.
Despite the purported security challenges related to transporting Sokha for his own defence, the jailed opposition leader was recently summonsed to appear before the Supreme Court on November 16, in a case to decide if they party will be dissolved. His lawyers have said he will not participate in the trial in any way.
Chan Kim Seng, director of the General Department of Prisons, said there had been no change in instructions to keep Sokha at the Trapaing Thlong prison in Tbong Khmum province.
Sam Sokong, Sokha’s lawyer, said the team had submitted a request to the high court last Monday to allow the jailed party leader to attend today’s hearing, but had not received a response as of yesterday.
“To legalise the trial and make it just, the court needs to respect the right of the suspect in the trial,” Sokong said, adding that the lawyers would not boycott today’s proceedings.
CNRP lawmaker Mao Monyvann said about 10 lawmakers and some supporters would attempt again to attend the hearing, adding that it was the right of the people to observe the court proceedings.
“Honestly, you [Khoung Sreng] should not worry and no need to take measures. We go as lawmakers and we just only want to listen to the trial and the decision,” he said.