Recent communication between former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha, who has been barred from political activities while awaiting trial on treason charge, and Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) leader Yang Saing Koma could result in further legal woes, a senior ruling party official said.
Sokha was arrested and charged with conspiring with a foreign power in September 2017, followed by the dissolution of the CNRP in November 2017. In 2019, the court granted him bail and allowed him to travel the country but barred him from engaging in politics.
His trial began in January 2020 and has been postponed due to the Covid-19 outbreak. He has been seen travelling to several provinces and talking with supporters, and also with Saing Koma.
Sokha’s lawyer Chan Chen posted a photo of both political figures on social media on March 30, saying Sokha and Saing Koma met in Mondulkiri province to learn about crops and the livelihoods of the people.
“Blood running toward blood; a child of a farmer runs toward a child of a farmer. True democrats who are loyal to the nation strive to live a hard and easy life. They do not run away from each other, no matter how difficult the situation is,” he wrote.
Chen could not be reached for comment on April 5 on what he had posted and if it might have violated the court-imposed ban.
Cambodian People’s Party spokesperson Sok Eysan said while Chen’s remark was freedom of expression, the duo had purportedly discussed forming a possible coalition.
“You discussed forming a political coalition to contest the ruling party, but now you deny it. The ruling party isn’t scared of Kem Sokha doing politics because he has already been banned from politics by the court,” he said.
Asked whether Sokha had violated the conditions of his bail, Eysan said it is a matter for the court to decide. But he said the public disclosure of Sokha’s relationship with Saing Koma was intended to test how the court would react.
“A lawyer has the right to talk, but a lawyer expressing comments for Sokha attracts the court’s attention. My comment is that when [Sokha] does something contrary to the court’s decision, it increases his guilt,” Eysan said.
Saing Koma confirmed that the photo Chen had posted on Facebook was taken in 2020 in Mondulkiri province.
“I cannot do anything with him because he does not have political freedom. We don’t conduct any [political] activities with him. He may also not want to do [any political activities] because he is afraid it may affect the court ban,” he said.
Saing Koma said the GDP will only welcome political discussions with Sokha after his political rights has been reinstated.