Government spokesperson Phay Siphan said on Tuesday the US State Department calling for Kem Sokha’s treason charge to be dropped showed a lack of respect for the law.
Siphan was reacting to a State Department statement on Tuesday that said Sokha, the president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), should be “released” as the charge was “baseless”.
State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus had called for Sokha’s release in a video clip posted on the US Embassy in Phnom Penh’s Facebook page on Tuesday.
The Cambodian government, she said, had yet to try Sokha or produce any credible evidence to back up its claims, which were used to dissolve the CNRP, the main opposition party, and to remove over 5,000 of its duly elected representatives from office.
She said such action “undermined multi-party democracy which was enshrined in the Cambodian Constitution”.
“The United States again calls on the Cambodian government to drop all charges against Kem Sokha and restore his civil and political rights, and free all those arbitrarily detained,” Ortagus said.
The State Department also urged the government to take concrete steps to promote reconciliation by allowing the media and civil society to operate without fear of intimidation or reprisal for exercising their rights of freedom of expression and association under the law.
However, Siphan said the statement reflected a political agenda.
“This is just the feeling of those who have expressed their opinion. However, that opinion is not in line with respect for the law.
“When we talk about respect for the law, we base it on questions of fact and law. So what they have said was made with a political agenda,” Siphan said.
Sokha was arrested on the night of September 3, 2017, at his house in the capital’s Tuol Kork district.
He was charged with “conspiracy with a foreign power”, which could see him sentenced to between 15 and 30 years in prison if found guilty.
He was released on bail under court supervision last September.
Ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesperson Sok Eysan on Tuesday echoed Siphan, saying that while the US had the right to voice its opinion, Cambodia was an independent and sovereign state.
“Court procedure can’t be interfered with by anyone. We all, including foreigners, want independent courts carrying out its duties independently.
“Why do they want the court’s affairs to be interfered with?” Eysan asked.
Social analyst Meas Nee said it was not the first time that the US had made such a statement.
He said he was of the view that Sokha’s case was not in line with international norms because there was nothing to justify the length of the investigation.
“Even though the government has said Sokha’s case is a matter of law, his long detention has made him a political prisoner. As a political prisoner, he is not allowed to be involved in politics because the ruling party is afraid.
“So when political tensions ease or when politicians can compromise, they could release him. But if there is nothing beneficial for the politicians, they could keep him there for up to 10 years. I see that Kem Sokha is now a political prisoner,” Nee said, adding that Sokha’s case could only be resolved through politics.
US Embassy in Phnom Penh spokesman Arend Zwartjes told The Post that he had no comment on the State Department statement.