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Court upholds Sokha detention for ‘treason’

Lawyer Sam Sokong, who is representing opposition leader Kem Sokha, speaks to the press outside the Supreme Court yesterday in Phnom Penh.
Lawyer Sam Sokong, who is representing opposition leader Kem Sokha, speaks to the press outside the Supreme Court yesterday in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Court upholds Sokha detention for ‘treason’

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld the legality of CNRP President Kem Sokha’s detention on widely condemned charges of “treason”, despite a team of defence lawyers laying out their arguments against his imprisonment for the first time before a court.

Sokha was arrested in a midnight raid on his Phnom Penh residence on September 3 after a 2013 video surfaced in which he said international assistance had played a role in his political rise. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court remanded him to pre-trial detention, a decision that was upheld by the Appeal Court in late September.

Security forces were deployed throughout the city yesterday, with streets leading to the Supreme Court barricaded, preventing several dozen supporters and spectators, and a handful of CNRP lawmakers, from reaching the premises.

After a two-hour deliberation, presiding Judge Khem Pun said he could not find any legal fault with the decision to keep Sokha in prison.

“The decision of the Appeal Court is legally correct,” he said.

Despite requests, Sokha was again not allowed to attend the hearing, as was the case at the Appeal Court in September, because of “security concerns”. His lawyers decided to attend yesterday after boycotting the Appeal Court hearing.

Judge Pun said the lawyers’ request for Sokha to attend the hearing was moot, given that the party leader had enough lawyers to represent him.

Their defence rested on three crucial factors: a lack of evidence of an alleged decades-long conspiracy; the use of an anonymous Facebook account to collect evidence; and the lifting of political immunity based on what his lawyers say were false claims that Sokha had been caught in the act of committing a crime.

“You said that from 1993 to present, [Sokha] colluded with foreigners to organise a secret [toppling] of the government. Where is your evidence?” asked Choung Choungy, one of Sokha’s lawyers. He added that only an “ID card, bank card, cash and rings” had been found as evidence at his home. “Is this a red-handed crime?”

Defence lawyer Pheng Heng, meanwhile, took umbrage with the interpretation of the 2013 video as private.

“The forum was not at a private place and it was not a secret. It was just the elaboration of past events, which had already happened,” Heng said.

Outside the court, supporters and CNRP officials waited for a decision for hours, with Sim Sovandy, a monk, saying he wanted to observe the trial – a right he was entitled to.

“Once I tried to walk in they pushed me back and did not let me get inside. They said that there was no duty there for monks and people,” he said.

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