Cambodian Opposition Chief Kem Sokha’s Trial Unlikely to Resume in 2021 — Radio Free Asia

The trial of opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Kem Sokha is unlikely to resume in 2021 due to ongoing considerations over the coronavirus pandemic, in accordance to court docket officers, regardless of calls to expedite the proceedings after practically a 12 months of delay.

Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in November 2017, two months after Kem Sokha’s arrest for allegedly plotting to overthrow the federal government. His trial on the Phnom Penh Municipal Court started on Jan. 15, 2020 however was suspended in March final 12 months on the pretext of the pandemic and Prime Minister Hun Sen has hinted that it could not conclude till 2024, lengthy after the subsequent election cycle.

The ban of the CNRP marked the start of a wider crackdown by Hun Sen on the political opposition, NGOs, and the unbiased media that paved the best way for the CPP to win all 125 seats in parliament in the nation’s July 2018 normal election.

Kem Sokha’s protection workforce wrote to the court docket two weeks in the past asking that his trial be resumed, saying the drawn-out authorized battle has severely infringed on his rights. While Kem Sokha is out on bail awaiting his trial, his political actions are restricted, and he has largely concerned himself in humanitarian work. But the opposition chief has stated that even such actions are seen with suspicion by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

In a letter dated Tuesday and just lately obtained by RFA’s Khmer Service, nonetheless, Phnom Penh Municipal Court Presiding Judge Kouy Sao advised Kem Sokha’s protection workforce his trial wouldn’t resume due to the specter of the virus and a rising backlog of circumstances.

“The judge council would like to inform the co-lawyers that after receiving the request to resume the trial, the council believes the trial cannot resume this year because the COVID-19 situation remains bad and uncertain,” Kouy Sao wrote, referring to the illness brought on by the coronavirus.

“On the other hand, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court has been busy with the criminal cases of the charged and accused who are being detained in overcrowded prisons. Those cases present a challenge for the Ministry of Justice’s campaign to resolve the court backlog.”

Kouy Sao stated that the decide council will look into resuming the trial “within an appropriate timeframe to ensure the rights and benefits of related parties according to the law.”

Concerns dismissed

Kem Sokha’s lawyer Pheng Heng stated the protection workforce will proceed to push for the court docket to resume the trial, even when by means of various means. He stated that if court docket authorities can’t discover a place to strive Kem Sokha on the courthouse, they will discover a totally different location, noting that previous proceedings have been held in lodges and different related venues.

Pheng Heng known as on the Ministry of Justice to intervene in the case. He additionally dismissed the court docket’s considerations over the coronavirus, saying China is sending vaccines to the nation.

“[The court] shouldn’t be worried about COVID-19. Cambodia is planning to inject 10 million people and … people are using hand sanitizer and face masks,” he stated.

Pheng Heng famous that the Ministry of Justice just lately introduced that it had lowered the variety of backlogged circumstances by 80 p.c, which he stated signifies that the court docket ought to have house on the docket to proceed with Kem Sokha’s trial.

Kem Sokha maintains his innocence whereas rights teams and Western governments say the fees in opposition to him are politically motivated, have by no means been supported by proof, and ought to be dropped.

Since his attorneys wrote to the court docket final month, U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia W. Patrick Murphy met with the opposition chief, calling for Cambodia to expedite his trial and restore his political rights forward of upcoming commune and normal elections in 2022 and 2023, respectively.

The members of the family of CNRP defendants name for his or her launch outdoors of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court whereas confronted by safety personnel, Feb. 4, 2021. RFA

Mass trial resumes

Meanwhile, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday resumed a trial for 21 CNRP members on expenses of “conspiracy” and “incitement,” questioning three activists about whether or not they had been in contact with the social gathering’s leaders dwelling overseas, which they denied.

Acting CNRP chief Sam Rainsy, his spouse Tioulong Saumura, CNRP deputy president Eng Chhai Eang, CNRP deputy president Mu Sochua, and different social gathering officers have been accused of “conspiracy,” “incitement to commit a felony or to disturb social security,” and “inciting military personnel to disobedience,” underneath articles 453, 494, and 495 and 471 of Cambodia’s prison code.

Mu Sochua and fellow social gathering leaders and activists dwelling in self-imposed exile had deliberate to return to Phnom Penh final month to face the fees, which they insist are designed to silence the opposition, however had been blocked by airways as a result of Cambodia’s authorities had canceled their passports or refused to present them visas to enter the nation.

Wives and members of the family of the defendants had been forcefully prevented from getting into the courthouse to monitor the trial by authorities, who detained 4 folks earlier than releasing them hours later.

Prumh Chantha, the spouse of one of many defendants, advised RFA the police had acted unjustly.

“We will go forward and we will not be defeated,” she stated.

“I am very proud of my husband who is a politician. As a wife I must follow his conscience. I won’t back down and will continue to demand his release so the world will know of our injustice.”

RFA was unable to contact Phnom Penh municipal spokesperson San Sok Seiha on Thursday for remark, however he has beforehand defended police motion in opposition to the defendant’s members of the family, saying they lack permission to collect.

The trial is anticipated to resume later this month.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.

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