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Plea for diplomats in Sokha’s case a ‘trick’

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Kem Sokha waves to supporters while leaving the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after attending his hearing on March 16. Hong Menea

Plea for diplomats in Sokha’s case a ‘trick’

A senior Ministry of Justice official considers a request to summon foreign diplomats involved in the case of former opposition leader Kem Sokha as a trick by the defence team to drag foreign powers into the case and to use their influence to exert pressure on the Kingdom.

Sokha, former president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has been charged with conspiring with a foreign power against the government from 1993 to 2017, a criminal offence punishable with a prison term of between 15 and 30 years under Article 443 of the Criminal Code.

Chin Malin, the ministry’s secretary of state and spokesman, said Sokha and his lawyers had long called for foreign ambassadors to be summonsed for the trial. He said government lawyers and the public were well aware that this was clearly a trick designed to use foreign influence to turn the trial into an international spectacle, rather than a domestic affair.

Malin said experts in international law have a clear understanding of the Vienna Convention on State-to-State Diplomatic Relations. As a matter of law, foreign diplomats have immunity and are not subject to the judicial power of the host state.

In diplomatic relations, there has never been a case of a host state summoning foreign diplomats to court. Even civil cases are rare.

Government lawyers always think of national interests, and in this case had requested the court to use code letters rather than naming the countries in question. This was to avoid any impact on international relations, he said.

“The patriotic Cambodian people are well aware that the Kingdom is a sovereign state and has its own laws which must be strictly enforced by the judiciary, which is an independent power as guaranteed by the Constitution, the supreme law of the nation,” he said in a social media post.

According to Malin, in this case, Sokha has been charged in accordance with Cambodia’s Criminal Code, and the most important evidence in the case is a video clip that was published publicly on social media and that many people have heard.

Muth Chantha – former Sokha’s cabinet chief and currently his assistant – countered that if someone asked the court to take action against a foreign state, organisations or agencies involved in the case, then as an independent body, they should not be concerned about the impact on diplomatic relations or international cooperation.

He said that even though they used a letter code to represent the names of foreign states, organisations and agencies, the allegations of their involvement had already been made. According to lawyers at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, commonly known as the Khmer Rouge tribunal, letter codes representing foreign states are only used for public purposes. During the proceedings, full names are used.

He said the defence team presented evidence in court of Sokha’s 2013 speech – to supporters in Melbourne, Australia – which lasted more than an hour, to counter the three minute video clip that was allegedly edited and used as evidence to arrest and charge Sokha on the night of September 2, 2017.

“His defence team has claimed that the video clip was cut into short clips and as a result his comments have lost context. They say it should not be considered strong evidence as they do not hear the entire video clip. It is true that the short clip shows the voice of the accused, but the meaning is not what they purport, as they have been very selective about which content they chose,” he said.

According to Chantha, Sokha’s lawyers clearly understand the purpose and scope of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and the so-called “privileges” and “immunities” and whom they apply to.

Chan Chen, Sokha’s co-lawyer, told The Post on April 28 that his team was currently working on their application for foreign diplomats to testify in the case and looking at the national and international law aspects.

“We are preparing it and will submit it. It is not yet known whether they will join, but we are following national and international laws,” he said.

Malin said that in the video clip, Sokha clearly described himself conspiring with foreigners, since foreigners recruited him, trained him and planned to help him against the legitimate government, following the example of the colour revolution in Yugoslavia-Serbia.

As a matter of law, this may be sufficient evidence to show conspiracy with a foreign state, he added.

Municipal court spokesman Plang Sophal told The Post on April 28 that he had no comment on the case.

“Applications are the right of all lawyers, while whether any application is accepted or not is the decision of the trial Chamber, who will base their decision on legal procedures,” he said.

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