In response to former opposition leader Kem Sokha’s failure to secure his release at a bail hearing on Thursday, former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Sam Rainsy demanded to be charged with treason as well.
Just as prime minister-designate Hun Sen had predicted on Wednesday, a judge from Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday renewed Sokha’s detention order by another six months.
Despite being charged with treason nearly a year ago, his case has yet to go to trial.
Rainsy took to Facebook on Thursday and said: “I, Sam Rainsy, co-founder and former president of the CNRP, officially ask to be accused of the same ‘treason’ charges jointly with Kem Sokha, and to face prosecution along with my former colleague and successor Kem Sokha,” he wrote.
Referring to a 2013 video that has been pointed to as evidence of Sokha’s “treason”, Rainsy said: “When Kem Sokha made his speech in Australia in December 2013, he elaborated on the support the CNRP had been receiving from US-based pro-democracy organisations such as the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). At the time, he was the vice-president of the CNRP while I was the president.”
Responding to his comments, Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said if Rainsy were truly brave, he would return to Cambodia to face all the charges brought against him.
“Why run away? He still has a number of legal charges and some verdicts have already been delivered. If he is very brave, he should return to face all other charges before asking the court to accuse and charge him with treason,” Malin said.
Travelling to the Tbong Khmum province facility where Sokha is being held, Investigating Judge Ky Rithy on Thursday convened the hearing at around 2pm, with Sokha and his four lawyers present.
Municipal court spokesman Y Rin said he had not received any information on the decision as of press time. But Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin told The Post that Sokha’s detention was extended by another six months “based on legal procedures”.
“The judge decided to extend the detention for six more months. This is the investigating judge’s legal right after he looked at legal principles. A temporary release on bail might impact the investigation process,” he said.
In the meantime, despite warnings from Hun Sen not to gather in front of the facility where Sokha is being held, many Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) supporters did precisely that on Thursday. However, they were blocked by police at the prison’s entrance.
Responding to calls for Sokha’s release amid an unprecedented spate of pardons in the wake of the July 29 elections, Hun Sen said on Wednesday that he couldn’t be released without being convicted of a crime.
Speaking to journalists after the hearing, Pheng Heng, one of Sokha’s four lawyers, said the legal team had pushed for him to be let out on bail.
“Kem Sokha requested his freedom. He said he is a good person and a peaceful one. We asked the judge about his worries and concerns that led him to extend the detention."
“So far those concerns or worries do not reflect reality, especially since my client promised to participate in the court procedures,” he said.
Ou Chanrath, a former opposition lawmaker who travelled to Tbong Khmum for Sokha’s hearing, said he and other activists were blocked by authorities about 7km from the prison. He also expressed disappointment with the judge’s decision.
Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) spokesman Sok Eysan wrote on social media app Telegram that in the past few days, many had speculated that Sokha would be released at his next bail hearing.
“In reality, there was no release. Rumours and predictions favoured the release of Kem Sokha, but his case is still within the ongoing legal process,” he said.
Political and social analyst Meas Nee said: “If we look at the seriousness of the accusation, it should be investigated quickly in order to catch the people involved.
“When they detain someone too long [without conviction], and they keep detaining him, it makes the public suspicious of the legal procedures,” he said.