The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on June 29 issued a warning against former opposition leader Kem Sokha – but stopped short of detaining him – for engaging in politics in violation of the Supreme Court-imposed five-year political ban following the dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in 2017.
At the 46th hearing of his treason trial, the prosecutor claimed that former CNRP president Sokha had met with supporters recently. But his defence team maintained that Sokha was merely meeting ordinary members of the public.
Pheng Heng, Sokha’s co-defence lawyer, told reporters that after a 20-minute hearing, the trial chamber declined the prosecutor’s request to return Sokha to prison for breaching the Supreme Court order.
Heng claimed that these actions were not violations of the court order. Sokha had worshipped with monks and met with groups of four to 20 former party activists who happened to be his friends. Often he had eaten at their homes, just as friends do.
Heng added that Sokha knows he has no right to engage in politics and made it clear to his supporters and the general public that he could join them only for rituals and social activities. This was the likely reason for the court’s decision to deny the prosecutor’s request, he said.
“At the same time, the court issued a warning to my client that he was not to engage in activities that breached the court order. They also asked that the warning be noted by the court clerk in the record of the hearing. The court did conclude that some of his meetings had the appearance of political activities, and may well have been,” he said.
Pheng said although he felt the court’s decision to issue a warning was unsatisfactory, he and his co-lawyers would respect it.
Yi Soksan, an official from human rights group ADHOC, told reporters on June 29 that he believed this was the first time the court had warned Sokha, or suggested that he had breached court orders.
“The presiding judge decided that Kem Sokha’s actions were political, but the decision seemed too harsh, and left no time for his defence to study the case,” he said.
Municipal Court deputy prosecutor Plang Sophal confirmed to The Post on June 29 that the court had decided to warn Sokha instead of detaining him. The court’s clerk recorded an official warning to Sokha, telling him he could not attend future gatherings of his supporters.
“The court will not allow such activities to continue. If he keeps breaching court orders, further action will be taken,” he said.