With jailed opposition leader Kem Sokha likely barred from attending his own hearing today at the Court of Appeal – due ostensibly to “security concerns” – a group of CNRP lawmakers are planning to gather outside to “monitor” the situation.
Meanwhile, the Cambodia National Rescue Party yesterday put up banners calling for Sokha’s release in all 25 provinces, a move a senior government official characterised as part of a “colour revolution”.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak confirmed last night that the police had decided not to allow Sokha to attend the hearing because of concerns for his own safety, but qualified that it was up to the judge’s discretion whether he would proceed without him.
Court spokesperson Touch Tharith also equivocated, saying it was up to the Prisons Department to actually bring the accused to court, but adding that Sokha’s presence wasn’t needed. “His lawyers can raise evidence to defend [him] . . . It seems not to affect [his] rights,” he said.
Nuth Savna, spokesperson for the General Department of Prisons, said yesterday afternoon that he had not yet received final word on whether to bring Sokha to court, and CC3 prison chief Pin Yan said he hadn’t received orders to bring Sokha or to prepare a video conference.
Sam Sokong, one of Sokha’s eight defence lawyers, maintained the party chief’s presence was crucial. “He wants to join the hearing,” he said, adding that if Sokha wasn’t present in the morning the lawyers would request to postpone the hearing, or potentially walk out.
Sokha’s lawyers are challenging his pre-trial detention, arguing that he enjoys parliamentary immunity and that it was illegal to arrest him after midnight. The arrest – for “treason” – followed the re-emergence of a 2013 video in which Sokha described receiving political advice from the US.
CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua said lawmakers would gather at the court regardless of whether their leader was there. “It’s to monitor,” she said.
Meanwhile, Pol Ham, another CNRP deputy, unveiled the banners calling for Sokha’s “Immediate and Unconditional Release” at a press conference, reiterating Sokha was still the party’s leader. “With the decision of the CNRP permanent committee, we decided today to put up banners demanding to drop the charge,” he said.
The Interior Ministry’s Sopheak condemned the signs as “pictures of a colour revolution”.
“Kem Sokha learned this from the US,” he added. “This is an instruction from Kem Sokha from inside the prison.”
Deputy President Sochua rejected the allegation.