Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Sokha’s detention upheld



Sokha’s detention upheld

Opposition leader Kem Sokha’s defence lawyers walk out of the Appeal Court yesterday morning in Phnom Penh.
Opposition leader Kem Sokha’s defence lawyers walk out of the Appeal Court yesterday morning in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Sokha’s detention upheld

The Court of Appeal yesterday ruled that the ongoing detention of opposition leader Kem Sokha was legal, despite claims his parliamentary immunity had been violated – and in spite of the fact that neither the accused nor his representatives were present.

Defence lawyers for the jailed Cambodia National Rescue Party president – who stands accused of “treason” – walked out of the courtroom in protest after the court refused to allow Sokha to attend the hearing. Nonetheless, the hearing proceeded, with court spokesman Touch Tharith saying a judge had ruled Sokha’s continued imprisonment was legal.

“This morning the judge of the Appeal Court decided that the decision of the investigating judge to put the accused Kem Sokha in pretrial detention is correct,” he said.

In a statement released later, Tharith called the lawyers’ decision to walk out “regretful” and asserted that a hearing related to procedure did not require the presence of the accused. “The law allows letting the court consider and proceed with the absence of the accused,” he said.

According to Sam Sokong, one of Sokha’s eight lawyers, the defence first requested the court to delay the hearing. When that request was rebuffed, the group walked out. Sokha was arrested earlier this month and charged with “treason” based on a 2013 video in which he talks about having received advice from the United States on political strategy. His lawyers challenged the legality of his arrest, noting that he enjoyed constitutionally mandated parliamentary immunity, and arguing that it was illegal to arrest him after midnight for anything other than an in flagrante delicto – or “red-handed” – offence.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay speaks to the press yesterday outside Phnom Penh's Appeals Court. Heng Chivoan

Authorities, however, have rejected this reasoning, claiming the purported crime was indeed a flagrant offence, allowing officers to arrest him at any time – and in spite of his immunity.

The government, however, has frequently been accused of violating the constitutional immunity of lawmakers, and despite lacking the two-thirds majority required to approve the prosecution of a lawmaker, ruling Cambodian People’s Party parliamentarians have voted to allow Sokha’s case to proceed.

Sokong yesterday called the judge’s decision to hold the hearing without Sokha present a violation of his rights. “The accused has the right to provide evidence and answer questions [in person]. If the accused is not in the courtroom, it means the hearing is meaningless,” he said. “The court decided to detain the accused in order to [make him] appear in court, so why did they not bring him to the court now?” he asked.

The defence team travelled to Tbong Khmum province’s Correctional Centre 3 to meet with Sokha, but could not provide details of what was discussed.

Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said the decision to keep Sokha from the hearing breached international human rights law and the Constitution.

“[Cambodia] recognises the [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] and all relevant international law, as recognised by the Cambodian Constitution. And the right of the accused to appear is stated in the ICCPR,” he said.

CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua, who gathered outside the court with other opposition lawmakers, called the process a “mock trial”.

“Mr Kem Sokha’s rights were being totally violated, so it comes to what we’ve been saying all along,” she said. “This is a political case with the goal to give the ruling party the upper hand with regards to the next elections. It’s not a level playing field.”

Protesters gather outside the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh following opposition leader Kem Sokha’s hearing yesterday.
Protesters gather outside the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh following opposition leader Kem Sokha’s hearing yesterday. Heng Chivoan

The CNRP’s response to Sokha’s arrest has been measured, with no demonstrations called for by the party. In perhaps its most visible act of dissent since the arrest, the party on Monday began putting up banners throughout the country calling for Sokha’s unconditional release, which the government quickly ordered removed.

Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak was quoted in local media as saying that the banners linked the CNRP to the “treasonous activities” of Sokha, which he said could lead to the dissolution of the party.

Controversial new changes to the Law on Political Parties – first designed to sideline Sokha’s predecessor, Sam Rainsy – do allow for the dissolution of parties “conspiring” with convicted criminals. Sokha, however, has not been convicted, and under the Constitution is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Sopheak could not be reached yesterday, but was reported as saying that the ministry would wait to see if the CNRP would take the banners down. If they do not, he said, the authorities would remove them.

Touch Sa Im, the head of the CNRP executive committee in Kampong Speu province, confirmed that the Chbar Mon town governor came to the Kampong Speu CNRP office yesterday morning and told him to take down the banner.

“But I told him that we won’t do that right now, because across the country they have not done that. Now, they just came to tell us to do so, but I don’t know what will happen next,” he said.

Kem Monovithya, the deputy CNRP public affairs officer and daughter of Sokha, said the party would not take the banners down. “They can come to take it down, just as they raided Kem Sokha’s house after midnight and handcuffed [him] without a warrant,” she said.

Deputy President Sochua, meanwhile, said the government needed to present clear legal basis before ordering them to remove the signs. “They need to tell us first which law we have broken,” she said.

Amid the tense political climate, the CNRP has seen at least a dozen of its lawmakers leave the country, which the party has maintained is unrelated to political pressure. Fellow Deputy President Eng Chhay Eang, who is currently abroad, said yesterday that he would be back in October.

MOST VIEWED

  • Would you like fries with that? US burger chain makes Phnom Penh debut

    California-based The Habit Burger Grill restaurant chain is all set to serve up a delicious array of charbroiled burgers and sides at its newest international location in the centre of Phnom Penh. The Habit is “renowned for its award-winning Charburgers grilled over an open flame,

  • Banteay Meanchey flood victims receive aid

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday provided aid to more than 10,000 families affected by flooding in Banteay Meanchey province’s Mongkol Borei district and offered his condolences to the 18 victims who drowned in the province over the past week. He said flooding had occured in

  • PM urges caution as Polish man tests positive for Covid

    The Ministry of Health on Wednesday reported that a 47-year-old Polish man tested positive for Covid-19 after arriving in Cambodia on Monday. There are a total of six Covid-19 patients currently in the country, all of whom are being treated at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital

  • Banteay Meanchey floods kill one more as death toll reaches 15

    As floodwaters start to recede in Pursat, Battambang and Pailin provinces and Phnom Penh, Banteay Meanchey continues to bear the brunt as one more person was killed on Monday, bringing the total number of flood-related deaths to 15 in the province this month. Banteay Meanchey provincial

  • Serving coffee with a side of robots

    The eye-catching glass building surrounded by greenery at the intersection of Streets 371 and 2002 in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district is more than just another coffee shop where you can while away a few hours. UrHobby House cafe is filled with robots and characters from

  • Floods prompt evacuations in Kampong Speu

    Rain-induced floods and water flowing from Kampong Speu province have submerged the houses of 1,527 families living close to the Prek Thnot River in Spean Thma, Tien, Kong Noy and Roluos communes in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district, according to data from local authorities. Spean Thma