The Ministry of Justice on Tuesday reacted to recent “baseless” claims by the US Embassy in Phnom Penh regarding the case of former opposition leader Kem Sokha, urging the embassy to stop spreading misinformation regarding the implementation of the law in Cambodia.
The ministry’s statement follows comments last Friday on the US Embassy’s official Facebook page calling for Sokha’s release.
“Did you know Kem Sokha has now been in detention for nearly 18 months? That’s 530 days of captivity. He is an innocent man, being held unjustly under false pretences. There is no evidence against him, and no trial date has been set. No evidence. No trial. No justice. Are you seeing #thefullpictureKH?” the post read.
Sokha is currently on bail awaiting trial on a charge of treason.
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin responded on Tuesday by accusing the US Embassy of disseminating misinformation.
“The US Embassy in Phnom Penh states that Kem Sokha has been detained almost 18 months. It is a claim [made] to lie to and confuse the public, and [demonstrates] a lack of knowledge of the Cambodian court’s laws and procedures. In principle, Kem Sokha was set under the court’s custody and not under temporary detention."
“Based on Cambodian law, the court is the only institution that has the authority to decide whether Kem Sokha is innocent or guilty relating to the charge of collusion with foreigners to topple the legal government. The court decides independently based on the law and evidence. It will not depend on the comments of the US Embassy."
“The Ministry of Justice expresses deep disappointment over the US Embassy in Phnom Penh that broadcast this baseless information, aiming to confuse and manipulate public opinion about the case. It puts the blame on the Cambodian courts which have already fulfilled their obligations rightly in accordance with the law and procedures of Cambodia,” Malin said.
Sokha was first detained on September 5, 2017 over allegations of “treason and espionage”, which claimed he was conspiring with the US government to orchestrate a “colour revolution”. He is also accused of orchestrating the 2014 Veng Sreng street protests.
On September 9 last year, the investigating judge released him on bail, putting him under court supervision.
Analyst Lao Mong Hay said the US Embassy statement is correct in that Sokha is still “effectively in detention” with “simply a change in the place of detention from Trapaing Phlong Prison to his house in Phnom Penh”.
Emily Zeeberg, spokesperson for the US Embassy in Phnom Penh, told The Post on Sunday that, as one of the 18 signatories to the 1991 Paris Peace Accords, the US had a responsibility to see that democracy and human rights are respected in Cambodia.
“Unfortunately, the Cambodian government is not honouring its obligations under the Paris Peace Accords to protect human rights and democracy. Kem Sokha has been accused of conspiring with the US to overthrow the government, which is absurd and false. So the Cambodian government has involved us directly in this,” Zeeberg said. She declined to comment when contacted on Tuesday.
However, Malin said the Paris Peace Accords are not an invitation to violate Cambodia’s sovereignty.
“The Paris Peace Accords do not give the US the right to violate international law, principles and diplomatic relations, or to interfere in the mechanisms of a sovereign state’s implementation of its law,” he said.
Kin Phea, the director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the embassy’s comments interfered in Cambodia’s internal affairs and damaged the countries’ bilateral relations.
“The statement might cause confusion for the public and international community, but it cannot hide Sokha’s mistake and it cannot affect the procedures of Cambodia’s courts,” he said.
Political analyst Meas Nee said the ministry should have evidence when making accusations towards the US.
“If the court dares to say that the US is behind [an attempted revolution], the court must have enough evidence to prosecute Kem Sokha,” he said.