Lawyers for jailed opposition leader Kem Sokha were up in arms yesterday after he was questioned by Phnom Penh Investigating Judge Ky Rithy without his representation present, with Rithy confirming prosecutors’ charge of treason and ordering the Cambodia National Rescue Party president to remain in detention.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson Ly Sophanna said that “after finishing face-to-face questioning with suspect Kem Sokha, the investigating judge decided to put suspect Kem Sokha in pre-trial detention on ‘espionage’ charges according to Article 443 of the Criminal Code, and detained the suspect according to the procedure”.
But defence lawyer Pheng Heng decried the decision as illegal. “The lawyers were absent . . . It violates the rights of the accused and the rights of the lawyers as mentioned in Article 149 of the Criminal Procure Code,” he said.
Article 149 grants the lawyer of a charged person the right to “freely communicate with his client in the detention centre or in prison”. Article 145 of the Procedural Code, meanwhile, stipulates that “the investigating judge shall summons the lawyer at least five days before the interrogation takes place”, and that a charged person can only be interrogated without his lawyers if the lawyer was “properly summonsed but does not show up”, or if the charged person waives that right.
Sokha’s lawyers were denied access to the accused on Tuesday, with prison guards insisting they needed to get permission from the court. Their efforts to reach the investigating judge were unsuccessful until the evening.
His lawyers maintained yesterday that they had not been officially informed of Sokha’s questioning by the investigating judge. Investigating Judge Rithy declined to comment yesterday.
CNRP Deputy Public Affairs Chief Kem Monovithya, who is also Sokha’s daughter, said the move was “no surprise”, and called the courts the ruling party’s “most effective tool to get rid of dissents for years now”.
In a statement, CNRP lawmakers called on the court to “drop the charge” and release Sokha. “[The] CNRP Parliamentary Group considers that the use of the judiciary as a political tool to persecute CNRP activists and its leaders . . . will only lead to greater political escalation,” which would “greatly affect fair and equal elections in Cambodia”.
Meanwhile, CNRP lawmakers Mu Sochua, Pol Ham, Son Chhay, Soun Sorida and Ky Vandara have requested to visit Sokha on Monday at 2pm.