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Eyes on Sokha not welcome: lawyers

Opposition leader Kem Sokha is escorted from his home by police following his midnight arrest in Phnom Penh earlier this month.
Opposition leader Kem Sokha is escorted from his home by police following his midnight arrest in Phnom Penh earlier this month. AFP

Eyes on Sokha not welcome: lawyers

Jailed opposition leader Kem Sokha’s lawyers have said that they are under surveillance during meetings with their client in Tbong Khmum’s Trapaing Thlong prison, which they yesterday called a violation of their rights ensuring client-attorney conversations are confidential.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party president was jailed on September 3 following his arrest in a midnight raid on his home in Phnom Penh and has since been charged with “treason” for claiming that he had received United States assistance in planning his political career.

While lawyers have had difficulty meeting with the party president, when they do get access they say they are being monitored with cameras and audio recording equipment in the prison.

“The interviewing room between lawyer and client is equipped with camera and sound recording,” said Sam Sokong, one of Sokha’s team of lawyers. “It violates the rights of lawyers and legal procedures.”

Koet Khy, another defence lawyer for Sokha, said after complaining about the use of cameras, a prison official claimed the equipment was not working because a lightning strike had wiped out the system. “We are now preparing a letter to ask why the camera is installed inside the room. It’s not common,” Khy said.

He added that Sokha was being kept in a private room and was not allowed to mingle with the other inmates during his exercise and free time.

The Law on the Statute of Lawyers ensures that a lawyer has the right to secrecy when dealing with his or her client, especially when preparing court documents on their behalf.

Article 510 of Cambodia’s Criminal Procedures Code also stipulates that a “detainee is entitled to have confidential conversations with his/her lawyer”, with Article 149 saying such discussions cannot “be listened to or recorded by others”. A similar article also exists in the Law on Prisons.

Prison Director Phin Yan, however, claimed that around 20 CCTV cameras, most of which were now broken, had been installed more than a year ago and were not being used to record Sokha’s conversations.

“They can find another place here, but we don’t have space for them besides this space to meet,” he said.

Prisons Department spokesman San Keo denied that the cameras were being used to listen in on conversations and said they were only for inmate safety.

If the conversations between Sokha and his counsel were indeed recorded, such surveillance would also be in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which gives the accused and their lawyers the right to privacy, said legal expert Sok Sam Oeun.

The treaty is recognised by the Cambodian government and constitution. “Sometimes the lawyer cannot work to their full effort because the accused may be scared to talk to them freely,” he said.

He said the lawyers should report violations to the Prisons Department but said local laws had no recourse for such a scenario.

Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson said given the corrupt and politically motivated nature of Cambodia’s judiciary it was not surprising that “bogus charges” against Sokha were being followed up with “sham procedures”.

“The only law that counts in Cambodia is the political fist of PM Hun Sen and that’s what is coming down on Kem Sokha’s head right now,” he said, referring to government claims it was only following the rule of law in arresting the opposition head.

Sokha’s legal team filed two motions earlier this week – one in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to drop the charges against Sokha and the other with the Appeal Court challenging the lower court’s decision to send the CNRP president to pre-trial detention, Sokong said.

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