Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Breaking: Sokha defence walk out in protest as CNRP leader is kept from own hearing

Breaking: Sokha defence walk out in protest as CNRP leader is kept from own hearing

Opposition leader Kem Sokha's defence lawyers walk out of Phnom Penh's Appeal Court this morning.
Opposition leader Kem Sokha's defence lawyers walk out of Phnom Penh's Appeal Court this morning. Heng Chivoan

Breaking: Sokha defence walk out in protest as CNRP leader is kept from own hearing

Defence lawyers for jailed opposition leader Kem Sokha walked out of the courtroom today after the Court of Appeals refused to allow the Cambodia National Rescue Party co-founder to attend a hearing meant to determine the legality of his arrest and detention.

Reached after the hearing, Touch Tharith, Appeal Court spokesperson, said the presiding judge had upheld the legality of Sokha's detention, despite the lack of participation from either Sokha or his representation.

"This morning the judge of the Appeal Court decided that the decision of the investigating judge to put the accused Kem Sokha in pre-trial detention is correct," he said.

According to one of the defenders, Sam Sokong, the eight lawyers first requested the court to delay the hearing. “But the Appeal Court decided to continue the hearing, so the lawyer group decided to walk out of the courtroom, and then the Appeal Court continued the hearing,” he said.

Lawyer Choung Choungy said the judge argued that the hearing was related to procedural issues and not to the charges as such, so the presence of the accused wasn’t needed.

Sokha was arrested earlier this month and charged with “treason” based on a 2013 video in which he talks about having received advice from the US on political strategy. His lawyers challenged the legality of his arrest, claiming that he enjoys constitutionally mandated parliamentary immunity and arguing that it was illegal to arrest him after midnight for anything other than an in flagrante delicto – or “red-handed” – offence.

Authorities, however, have rejected this reasoning, claiming the purported crime was indeed a flagrant offence, allowing officers to arrest him at any time, and in spite of his immunity.

The government has frequently been accused of violating the constitutional immunity of lawmakers, and despite lacking the two-thirds majority required to approve the prosecution of a lawmaker, ruling Cambodian People’s Party parliamentarians have voted to allow Sokha’s case to proceed.

Lawyer Sokong said the judge’s decision violated the rights of the accused. “The accused’s rights are ensured by international rights and the Cambodian Constitution,” he said. “The accused has the right to provide evidence and answer questions [in person]. If the accused is not in the courtroom, it means the hearing is meaningless.”

He added that a group of lawyers were now on their way to Tbong Khmum province’s Correctional Centre 3, where the opposition leader is being held, to discuss further action.

Sokong also pointed out the irony of not allowing Sokha to attend today’s hearing.

"The court decided to detain the accused in order to [make him] appear in court, so why did they not bring him to the court now?" he asked.

Fellow defence lawyer Chan Chen said their client had to be present because “we, the lawyers, are not parties to the conflict”.

“His Excellency Kem Sokha is the only person to answer questions,” he said. “If he is not here, we the lawyers cannot attend.”

CNRP deputy chief Mu Sochua, who had gathered outside the court with other opposition lawmakers, called the process a “mock trial”.

“Mr Kem Sokha’s rights were being totally violated, so it comes to what we’ve been saying all along,” she said. “This is a political case with the goal to give the ruling party the upper hand with regards to the next elections. It’s not level playing field.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Volunteer scheme to foster ‘virtuous’ humanitarian spirit

    A senior education official said volunteer work contributes to solidarity and promotes a virtuous humanitarian spirit among the youth and communities. Serei Chumneas, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, made the comment during the opening of a training programme called “

  • Chinese firms unveil preliminary results on metro, monorail for capital

    Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol and representatives from China Road and Bridge Corp (CRBC) and its parent company, the state-owned China Communications Construction Co Ltd (CCCC), met on June 24 for talks on results of the firms’ preliminary study on a potential metro

  • ACLEDA, WU to enable global money transfers

    Cambodia's largest commercial bank by total assets ACLEDA Bank Plc and global money transfer firm Western Union (WU) have partnered to offer customers cross-border money transfers to 200 countries via “ACLEDA mobile” app. In Channy, president and group managing director of ACLEDA, said the June 22 agreement

  • Walmart plans to diversify stock of Cambodia goods

    Walmart Inc, the world’s biggest retailer, on June 22 reiterated recent plans to scale up and greatly diversify its purchases of Cambodian products, according to the labour ministry. This came during a virtual working meeting between Minister of Labour and Vocational Training Ith Samheng and

  • Cambodia detects new Covid cases after 52 days: PM

    After 52 days of zero new Covid-19 cases, Cambodia has now detected new infections, according to Prime Minister Hun Sen. In his special audio address to the nation late on June 28, Hun Sen said the new cases were detected on people who had undergone PCR tests

  • Cotton club growing in Battambang

    The global market for “vegan leather” – materials that act as alternatives to traditional leather that can be synthesised from cork, apple peels, cactus, recycled plastic, grape pomace and pineapple leaves, among other things, and supposedly require no chemicals or water to produce – is expected to