The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on January 25 resumed the trial of former opposition leader Kem Sokha for a charge of treason that carries a prison term of up to 30 years, with Sokha’s defence team requesting that the judge increase the frequency of the hearings to bring the case to a rapid conclusion.
Sokha – who was arrested in 2017 and charged with “conspiring with a foreign power to topple the government” – exited the court quickly without giving further comment and with his commute to and from the proceedings facilitated by capital police officers.
Speaking after the hearing, Sokha’s defence attorney Ang Udom said the prosecution once again played the entire video clip of his speech in Australia in 2013.
According to Udom, it is the only evidence being offered by the prosecutors to prove Sokha’s guilt. The prosecution also played seven shorter video clips edited from the original footage.
Udom said that during the hearing, prosecutor Seng Leang tried to force a conclusion to the trial by pressuring Sokha directly before he was stopped by the trial chamber judge following an objection from the defence team.
“These video clips have been played many times already and each side has argued about them, yet the prosecution keeps showing them. We requested that the court speed up the trial procedures, but it seems that the court won’t agree to our request and has now scheduled the next hearing on February 2,” Udom said, adding that he would like the court to hold three hearings per week.
Udom also criticised the prosecutor who said last week that the hearings could be concluded quickly if Sokha accepted the truth of the accusations brought against him and entered a guilty plea, saying that it only revealed the weakness of their case.
“The accused has no guilt and nothing to confess. If the accused confessed for what he has not done, that would be fake justice and he would be given punishment that isn’t due, which is unacceptable,” Udom said.
Ky Tech, an attorney representing the government, declined to comment on the hearing, referring reporters to the court.
Municipal court spokesman Phlong Sophal also declined to offer further details about the hearing, saying briefly that the court was finished with Sokha’s hearings for this week and would resume on February 2.
Sokha’s trial has attracted the attention of foreign diplomats, human rights activists and other international observers who claim that he is being prosecuted for political reasons and call for his immediate release.
Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights who attended the hearing in person as an observer, said the “dock” Sokha was seated in was set up differently from past defendants who are normally seated on a tall stool, whereas Sokha has been given a chair and a desk to take notes.
She said the lengthy and drawn out process of Sokha’s trial was likely spurred by the political nature of the case because the notion that Sokha’s speech in Australia was treasonous is “absurd”.