Security will be heightened across the Kingdom on Wednesday, especially in the capital and around the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, in preparation for Kem Sokha’s treason trial.
The former president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was arrested in September 2017 and charged with conspiring with a foreign power.
He was detained for more than a year in a Tbong Khmum provincial prison before being released on court-supervised bail in September 2018.
Sokha’s court case will begin on Wednesday, and if found guilty, he faces up to 30 years in prison.
“We have prepared our security plans, not only in regards to where the trial is taking place, but also the whole of Phnom Penh. It is also aimed at maintaining security across the country against any incitement by ‘that’ group.
“We are taking action by first explaining to the public so they understand the legal facts of the case. The police are ready to keep public order and ease traffic jams. We are prepared for any incident that could happen,” said National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun.
Phnom Penh municipal police chief Sar Thet said his officers would maintain security around the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to ensure the trial proceeds smoothly while easing traffic congestion.
He said Sokha’s supporters would not be allowed near the court as this could result in trial proceedings being interrupted.
“How can we allow them to go there and affect security and public order? We will decide whether or not to block the road when we see the actual situation. But we are ready for that,” Thet said.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued a statement on Thursday informing the public that the courtroom for Sokha’s hearing could only accommodate 30 people. The court called on interested members of the public to register to attend the trial.
“To ensure security, order and the smooth running of the hearing, members of the public who wish to attend should contact the secretariat of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court administration for registration from January 10-14,” it said.
Former CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath said those who wished to should be allowed near the court to show their support for Sokha as was allowed in a democratic and peaceful country.
“Supporters of any person on trial should not be pressured. They should be able to receive information and show their support outside the court. In other countries,people are allowed to look on and support those on trial.
“I think if they are worried about protests by former CNRP supporters, it is a kind of pressure. If there is a peaceful protest, there is nothing wrong with this because a democratic country should allow it.
“This is just a show of support, which is freedom of expression in a democratic country,” Chanrath said.
However, Ministry of Justice spokesperson Chin Malin said blocking Sokha’s supporters from getting near the court was not a restriction on their freedom, but rather it is merely to maintain security.
Chan Chen, one of Sokha’s four defence lawyers, said followers of the trial locally and internationally, should be well appraised of what he called an “extraordinary case”.
He said the court should find ways to allow public access to the trial.
Local rights group Licadho said seven witnesses – Hun Hoeuy, Koeu Loas, Khoeun Virath, Leng Vibol, Ma Chetra, Sar Sorn and Thav Kimsan – had been called to testify in the hearing on Wednesday.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson Kuch Kimlong could not be reached for confirmation.
Chetra said he would attend the hearing, but he said he did not know why he was seen as a witness in the case.
Sorn, a Borei Keila land activist and one of the witnesses, said she would also attend the hearing.
She said she was interviewed two years ago by an investigating judge who asked her about the “Black Monday” campaign calling for the release of human rights activists.
“The investigating judge asked me how many times I had met Kem Sokha. I said I hadn’t met him. He said he did not believe me and had documents to prove otherwise,” Sorn said.