Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kem Sokha rejects ‘treason’ charges

Kem Sokha rejects ‘treason’ charges

Protesters gather outside Phnom Penh’s Appeal Court demanding opposition leader Kem Sokha’s release during a hearing last month.
Protesters gather outside Phnom Penh’s Appeal Court demanding opposition leader Kem Sokha’s release during a hearing last month. Heng Chivoan

Kem Sokha rejects ‘treason’ charges

In his first full statement since being arrested one month ago, jailed opposition leader Kem Sokha yesterday rejected any suggestions that he engaged in collusion with a foreign power against the Cambodian government, and called the midnight raid on his house a violation of his right to privacy and his parliamentary immunity.

The opposition leader was arrested on charges of “treason” on September 3 after a video shot in 2013 resurfaced the day before in which Sokha described getting American assistance to plan political strategies. Sokha’s letter yesterday was drafted by the party using notes handed over by his defence team, according to one of his lawyers, Sam Sokong.

In the three-page letter, Sokha accuses local authorities of violating his rights by breaking into his home and arresting him for allegedly committing an in flagrante delicto offence – or “red-handed crime” – allowing them to bypass his parliamentary immunity. He also denies that he committed treason – an accusation that has been parroted by senior government officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“On the point that the authorities charged me, of colluding or conspiring and working with foreigners to topple the government, it is completely slanderous,” he said. The jailed leader goes on to explain that, in a democracy, it is the job of the primary opposition party to replace the ruling party – a point he made in the video that precipitated his arrest – but maintains that he has attempted to do this in only a “peaceful and positive” way.

“If the opposition party does not attempt to replace the ruling party it cannot be called an opposition party,” the letter reads. “So all my actions are not illegal.”

“If our nation dies there will be no rich or powerful people. It means everything is gone.”

Sokha also appeals to the Cambodian people to continue their pursuit for justice and change – which he says is only half-finished – and also calls on the international community to act immediately to prevent a “useless” election in 2018.

“[The] international community often says that democracy in Cambodia is heading towards a dangerous [point], and now democracy is taking its last breath,” he writes.

CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua and Sokha’s cabinet chief, Muth Chantha, both confirmed the authenticity of the letter, but directed further queries to his lawyers.

Sokong said the defence team had been taking notes since they first met Sokha at Tbong Khmum Provincial Prison, and he instructed them yesterday on which sections to include in the letter.

“We take notes, and he tells us what he wants to be in the letter. He wants to illustrate he is innocent and the authorities violated his rights,” Sokong said.

The government and law enforcement have been accused of violating parliamentary immunity in the past, which is only allowed in cases of an “in flagrante delicto” offence.

Even in such cases, the Constitution requires a two-thirds majority to lift an arrested lawmaker’s immunity. Though the ruling Cambodian People Party does not hold such a majority, it has repeatedly allowed cases against opposition lawmakers to proceed.

National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith took umbrage with Sokha’s claims that the arrest was a violation of his rights, saying the CNRP leader was “wrong”, and that the police would not “dare” arrest him had he not committed a flagrant offence.

“We take action according to the law because everybody knows, and we also know, that he has immunity. That is a right that no one can abuse, except that he committed a red handed crime,” Chantharith said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Siem Reap drain canal now ‘mangrove’ promenade

    A more than half a kilometre long stretch of canal in Siem Reap has been covered and turned into a promenade to attract visitors, said Ly Rasmey, secretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, on September 16. The new pedestrianised

  • Angkor wildlife, aquarium park still to open October

    The Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium complex about 30km southeast of Siem Reap town with initial total investment of more than $70 million is reportedly still on track for an end-October opening. The park is located on a 100ha plot along National Road 6 in Kbon village, Khchas

  • Final verdicts for Khmer Rouge leaders ‘vital’ for next generation

    Nearly a decade after the commencement of Case 002/02 against Khieu Samphan back in 2014, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is now set to deliver its final verdict for the former Khmer Rouge head of state. The Supreme Court Chamber of the ECCC,

  • Defence minister reaffirms Kingdom’s staunch support for One-China policy

    Minister of National Defence General Tea Banh has reaffirmed Cambodia’s unwavering support for the One-China policy. Tea Banh was speaking at the September 20 ceremonial handover of 117 vehicles and other military equipment donated by China’s defence ministry, held at Phnom Chumreay International Military Training

  • Deaths due to ‘lifestyle’ diseases rise in Kingdom

    The Ministry of Health has called on people to pay closer attention to their health to protect themselves from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) which it said have caused high rates of deaths in the country. Ministry secretary of state York Sambath made the call at a

  • Textile industry minimum wage now $200

    The official minimum wage for workers in textile-related sectors including garment, footwear, and travel goods for 2023 was pegged at $198, with Prime Minister Hun Sen stepping in to add $2 to the total, making it $200 per month. The Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training made the announcement