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Sokha charge calls are ‘judicial interference’

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Japanese Ambassador Masahiro Mikami shakes hands with Kem Sokha yesterday. Heng Chivoan

Sokha charge calls are ‘judicial interference’

A Ministry of Justice spokesman and Cambodia’s Permanent Mission to the UN Office at Geneva (Unog) have described demands for the treason charge against Kem Sokha to be dropped as tantamount to interference in the judiciary.

Rhona Smith, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia, this week repeated “calls for . . . the charges against [Sokha] to be dropped”.

The US ambassador also said he hoped that Sokha would be freed of the charge.

Sokha, the president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was arrested in September 2017 and charged with “conspiracy with a foreign power”. He faces a maximum of 30 years in prison if found guilty.

French Ambassador Eva Nguyen Binh, US Ambassador Patrick Murphy, German Ambassador Christian Berger, Australian Ambassador Angela Corcoran, Japanese Ambassador Masahiro Mikami and EU Ambassador Carmen Moreno visited Sokha between Sunday and Wednesday at his home in the capital’s Tuol Kork district after his conditions were reduced.

US Ambassador Murphy spoke to media after his visit on Monday and called for Sokha’s charge to be dropped.

“The move by the Kingdom is a step forward. However, we think it is important to see more to restore Kem Sokha’s entire freedom and liberty and drop the charges against him.

“This is an important time to do the same for those who have also had their freedom and liberty denied,” Murphy said.

Smith on Monday said she welcomed the reduction of Sokha’s bail conditions but voiced some regrets.

“I regret that the court order continues to limit his civil and political rights, in particular his freedom of movement and freedom of association. I reiterate calls for the swift conclusion of the investigation into Sokha’s case, or for the charges against him to be dropped,” she said.

Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said on Monday that as Sokha is charged and under a court investigation, the court was allowed by law to restrict some of his rights, including his political freedom, while the probe is ongoing.

“Cambodian legal procedure dictates that any decision to drop charges is the right of the court, which is an independent body. Such a decision must be made based on legal grounds and the result of an investigation and without pressure or orders from any party, including international bodies and diplomats,” Malin said.

Interference in Cambodia’s internal affairs is prohibited by international law, Malin added.

The Cambodian Permanent Mission to Unog also responded to Smith on Monday.

It described her demands that the charge against Sokha be dropped as disturbing and interfering in the Cambodian judiciary.

The Permanent Mission said such a move would not be conducive to strengthening of the rule of law and law enforcement in the Kingdom.

It said the revised terms of Sokha’s bail conditions came from the court’s humanitarian considerations over his health and stressed that he will face a fair trial when the investigation has concluded.

“The Special Rapporteur’s media statement continues to confuse right from wrong. All legal steps taken so far have nothing to do with political grounds. They are in full compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Cambodian Criminal Code.

“The Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia would like to remind the Special Rapporteur of her mandate . . . which is on the basis of the principles of impartiality. The Special Rapporteur is not a judge who has the power to rule for any acquittal,” the Permanent Mission said.

Smith also expressed her concern over the fate of 85 people detained by authorities. She called on the government and political parties to reduce tensions and seek a peaceful solution together.

Kin Phea, the director-general of the International Relations Institute at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, said on Wednesday that Sokha’s bail conditions being reduced was a positive development in solving the current political situation. This would continue as his case was heard and concluded by the Supreme Court, he said.

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