The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has delayed the treason trial of Kem Sokha, the former president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
Separately, a recorded phone conversation between Sokha and Prime Minister Hun Sen were re-posted by Facebook users.
In a letter dated June 23 in response to Sokha’s lawyers, presiding Judge Koy Sao said the trial will be delayed until further notice due to Covid-19 concerns.
“Obviously, everybody is still afraid of the Covid-19 virus that has swept the globe. The courtroom cannot accommodate 30 to 40 participants because they are required to keep a distance of 2-3m,” the letter said.
Sao said the postponement aimed to ensure that anyone who wants to attend the hearing will be able to do so without fear of catching the virus.
“The risk of hearing the case again in this uncertain time can bring havoc to the whole process and affect the rights of the relevant parties if there is a possible infection. So, the hearing should be held at an appropriate time when the Covid-19 situation eases.”
Chan Chen and Meng Sopheary, two of Sokha’s four defence lawyers, told The Post on Wednesday that they submitted a letter requesting that the hearing be continued on June 17. The request was made on the opinion that the Covid-19 situation had quietened down.
“To ensure respect for human rights and justice for our client, we requested the court to consider continuing the trial. But [social and physical] distancing has to be observed as advised by the Ministry of Health,” the letter said.
Sokha’s trial started in mid-January and continued into the second week of March. But it was halted at the request of the lawyers representing the government and Sokha’s lawyers because of Covid-19.
In May, Sokha joined Hun Sen in grieving the death of the prime minister’s mother-in-law. Foreign diplomats regarded their meeting as a positive step. Around that time, diplomats from the West and Japan also visited Sokha.
On Wednesday, the “Social Justice” Facebook page posted a recording of an old conversation between Sokha and Hun Sen.
The conversation was likely recorded after 2015. In it, Sokha and Hun Sen talked amicably, came to agreements on certain topics and discussed the National Assembly and the beatings of CNRP parliamentarians in October 2015.
Hun Sen is heard as telling Sokha he could not tolerate Sam Rainsy because Rainsy had likened the prime minister to Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan leader and known dictator.
“Listening to Sokha’s talks with Hun Sen, it is known that our president Kem Sokha not only doesn’t support the stupid politics of Sam Rainsy, but he’s also not a coward and didn’t flee the country like Sam Rainsy,” the group said in a post accompanying the recording.
Political analyst Em Sovannara said there were likely ulterior motives behind the posting of the conversation on Facebook. He noted it was reposted by news outlets close to the ruling party even though it knew it was old.
“We can understand that those who reposted it want reconciliation and acceptance of Kem Sokha. This is a poll among the public, both Cambodian citizens and the international community, to survey [how they like the idea],” he said.
Sovannara is of the view that another purpose for reposting the conversation was to show the international community that Hun Sen and Sokha were working together to delay Cambodia’s withdrawal from the EU’s Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme.
Consumers in the EU may face a 12 per cent increase in the cost of buying Cambodian-made goods in the event of an EBA withdrawal.
Sovannara said the outlets might also want to see the global public’s reaction to Sokha and Hun Sen’s apparent closeness in light of Rainsy’s disappearance from the public eye.
Government spokesperson Phay Siphan on Wednesday said the Facebook post of the recording was merely information sharing and that it is open to interpretation.
“For me, I regard this as just information sharing. The conversations contain nothing which affects national security – it is between the two individuals,” he said.