Legal experts on Monday expressed mixed views on the duration of former opposition leader Kem Sokha’s alleged house arrest.
In the meantime, the European Parliament is still deciding on its next step after it passed a resolution on Thursday demanding all charges against Sokha be dropped.
The former president of the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has been released on bail under court supervision after more than a year in pre-trial detention on what Western countries call a politically motivated treason charge.
In Sokha’s criminal case, legal experts said, the duration of his pre-trial detention cannot exceed 18 months, after which a judge must either wrap up the investigation and proceed with prosecution or drop all charges.
They said Sokha’s release under strict court supervision amounted to house arrest.
Investigating Judge Ky Rity said that Sokha cannot overstep the court-mandated border within which he can move about.
“Besides his residence, [Sokha] must not exit demarcated zones on [surrounding] streets,” the judge said.
Prominent legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said such a restriction amounted to house arrest.
“In this case, it’s the same as being in detention. So the duration cannot exceed 18 months as in the case of a pre-trial detention,” he said.
Meng Sopheary, one of Sokha’s lawyers, echoed Sam Oeun’s views.
“The investigating judge has released him on bail with heavy strings attached, putting him under strict court supervision not house arrest, which is not stipulated in law."
“But with the court’s conditions limiting his freedom too much, it is no different from house arrest,” she said.
Chan Chen, another of Sokha’s lawyers, disagreed. Citing legal terms, he said his client is not under house arrest.
“The court’s decision says he’s on bail with some strings attached under court supervision, not house arrest,” he said, adding that he was not sure how long the detention would last.
Sam Oeun said Sokha’s defence lawyers should file a complaint pleading for his freedom when his detention exceeds 18 months.
“It’s not stated clearly in the law. But lawyers can argue that this is detention. It is just not a detention in prison but at home instead. So they can base their demand on that for more freedom."
“After 18 months, plead [with a judge] that the length of detention allowed by law is over,” he said.
Sopheary said the investigating judge should wrap up the investigation and drop all charges against her client.
However, analyst Lao Mong Hay said the length of Sokha’s house arrest would be indefinite, given the complexity involving a third party in the case.
“Kem Sokha will definitely continue to be under house arrest without a trial. The complexity involving foreign parties in the case warrants a prolonged investigation."
“This will be used as a pretext for an indefinite extension of his house arrest that could cost Sokha’s rights to a fair trial as stipulated under Article 14.3 of the international convention for civil and political rights to which Cambodia is a party,” he said.
The EU Parliament on Thursday passed a 13-point resolution demanding the dropping of all charges against Sokha. But the resolution is not binding according to the EU Parliament Directorate-General for Communication, Viktor Almqvist.
“It will now be up to other involved parties, for example, the European Commission, to assess the necessary next steps."
“The resolution does not have a ‘best before date’, which means it will be a standing call from the Parliament until a new version is adopted,” he told The Post on Monday.