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

  • PM slams HRW ‘double standards’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has chided Human Rights Watch (HRW) Asia director Brad Adams for keeping quiet over protest crackdowns in the US following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. Addressing reporters while inspecting infrastructure development in Preah Sihanouk province on Monday,

  • Bank robber of $6M asks to be released

    An accused bank robber who admitted to stealing $6 million has asked the Supreme Court to release him temporarily because he had returned the money. In a court hearing on Tuesday Chan Simuntha, 39, told the judge that on January 18, his wife Teang Vathanaknearyroth told him that

  • WHO: Antibiotics cause more deaths

    Increased antibiotics use in combating the Covid-19 pandemic will strengthen bacterial resistance and ultimately lead to more deaths during the crisis and beyond, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday. WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said a “worrying number” of bacterial infections were becoming

  • Children in poverty said to rise by 86M

    The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Save the Children warned that if urgent measures are not taken, the number of children living in poverty across low- and middle-income countries could increase by 86 million, a 15 per cent jump, by the end of the year. In

  • Four more Cambodian peacekeepers get Covid-19 in Mali

    Four more Cambodian Blue Helmet peacekeepers in Mali have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, bringing the number of infected Cambodian UN peacekeepers to 10. National Centre for Peacekeeping Forces and Explosive Remnants of War deputy director-general and spokeswoman Kosal Malinda told The Post on Tuesday

  • Huge tracks of undocumented land a concern for registration officials

    Siem Reap provincial deputy governor Ly Samrith expressed concern that land registration plans for residents scheduled to be completed by late 2021 could not be achieved because 80 per cent of the land had not been registered. Land dispute issues are a major factor that poses a