Sokha’s defence team seeks trial resumption

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Kem Sokha left the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after his hearing in January. Heng Chivoan

Kem Sokha’s defence team on Monday made its second request to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to resume Sokha’s trial following its postponement for more than five months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The request dated October 5 was prepared by Sokha’s defence lawyers Chan Chen, Pheng Heng, Ang Udom and Meng Sopheary. It was addressed to the president of the court.

The letter said: “To the above subject and reference, we would like to inform Mr [Court] President that the situation of Covid-19 is completely under the control of the government, as the Ministry of Health alerts every day. In the meantime, the court also proceeds with trials concerning other cases every day.

“Therefore, we request the court to immediately resume the trial process on the criminal case mentioned above as per request and procedures.”

Sokha’s trial, during which he was charged with “conspiracy with a foreign State” has been postponed since March due to the outbreak of Covid-19. In June, Sokha’s defence team requested the court to resume the trial but the trial chamber chief Koy Sao rejected the request, citing the pandemic.

Court spokespersons did not respond to The Post’s enquiries on Monday.

Sokha’s lawyer Chen also declined to comment before receiving a court decision on the request.

Ky Tech, a civil party lawyer representing the government, said it was up to the court to decide and he will always follow the decisions made by it.

In September, Prime Minister Hun Sen reportedly said in a closed-door meeting at the Council of Ministers that Sokha’s court case could continue for up to four years, beyond the commune election in 2022 or national election in 2023, according to a Khmer Times report.

Sokha has recently been seen travelling to different provinces to participate in religious ceremonies and deliver goods to impoverished people. Last week, he travelled to Preah Sihanouk province to deliver rice and raincoats to poor people and victims of floods.

In a Facebook post, Sokha said: “A contribution with a will to do humanitarian [deeds] based on tradition, custom, and religion is the consciousness of a person who has virtue and gratitude to people and the nation.

“It is better than jealousy and malicious denunciation, which can cause conflict and lead to danger for other people and society.”

Ou Chanrath, a former opposition lawmaker said he was surprised to see the media report that Sokha’s case could continue up to 2024. But he said if the court continues to prolong the case, it is possible that it could end in four years as reported.

“We won’t gain anything by delaying the case. It affects Cambodia’s reputation and makes the international community put pressure on the Kingdom because they are keeping an eye on the Sokha case,” he said.

Kin Phea, the director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute said on Monday that the court should resume the hearing because other cases have been processed as usual.

“It is a matter of law. But if we keep this case longer, it becomes a hostage which the international community can use as a basis to lay out their measures or statements regarding Cambodia.

“If the court speeds up the trial and decides to re-arrest or convict him, it’s the court’s matter. But it’s better than prolonging the case,” Phea said.

Nevertheless, he said the Sokha case is entirely Cambodia’s internal matter as a sovereign State. No country can use the Sokha case to put pressure on or sanction Cambodia, he said.

“If they sanction Cambodia using this case, it means they are entirely politicising it. The court procedure and legal action taken by the government is within the rights of Cambodia to enforce its laws and internal measures to ensure security, political stability, and social order,” Phea said.