Cambodia: Spurious “treason” charges against opposition leader Kem Sokha must be dropped
Today, following the commencement of the trial of political opposition leader Kem Sokha, the ICJ condemned his continuing legal harassment and called on the Government of Cambodia to drop the ill-founded and apparently politically-motivated charges of treason against him.
“The trial hearing today marks and extends more than two years of legal harassment of one of Cambodia’s most prominent leaders of the political opposition,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ’s Asia Pacific Director.
“The charges against Kem Sokha are wholly unsubstantiated – They should be dropped, and the trial discontinued in the accordance with his right to fair trial.”
In September 2017, Kem Sokha, leader of the now-defunct main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was arrested without warrant by more than 100 police officers in a midnight raid on his home. His arrest, in violation of his parliamentary immunity, was reportedly made on the basis that he had allegedly committed a crime in flagrante delicto – the Prosecution Office of Phnom Penh Municipal Court argued that he had been caught “red-handed” in an act of treason despite the fact that the alleged act was a speech he had made four years earlier in Australia in 2013. In the speech, Sokha had alluded to receiving foreign assistance in advocating for democratic change in Cambodia.
Kem Sokha was thereafter charged with alleged “conspiracy with a foreign power” under article 443 of the Criminal Code, and detained in the remote Trapaing Thlong prison in Tboung Khmum Province near the Vietnamese border. His applications for bail were rejected multiple times before he was released from prison after one year in pre-trial detention. During this period, Sokha was also denied access to independent doctors and medical treatment, despite his suffering from serious medical conditions. In 2017, the courts in Phnom Penh ruled that his pre-trial detention was legal under Cambodian law and refused him bail, even though Sokha had been barred from attending the proceedings, which his lawyers also boycotted in protest.
Kem Sokha’s arrest occurred in the midst of an intense crackdown on political opposition, civil society and independent media in the lead-up to the 2018 general elections. Two months after his arrest, Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP and banned 118 CNRP officials from political activities for five years. In July 2018, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party won the elections by a landslide.
Following the elections, the Cambodian government has continued to systematically repress and persecute perceived critics of the regime through abuse of legal and judicial processes. In 2019, Cambodian authorities brought apparently politically-motivated charges against more than 100 members of the political opposition, more than half of whom were detained.
“There is an ongoing human rights and rule of law crisis in Cambodia, which needs to be urgently addressed,” said Rawski.
“The dissolution of the CNRP and imprisonment of its leader were crucial indicators that the Cambodian government had crossed a red-line a long time ago.”
The ICJ has called on the Cambodian authorities to fulfill the State’s obligations to protect people’s rights guaranteed under international law, including the rights to free expression, political participation and freedom of association, as well as the right to a fair trial and freedom from arbitrary detention.
To download the full statement with additional background information, click here.
Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia and Pacific Regional Director, e: frederick.rawski(a)icj.org
ICJ, ‘Cambodia: Charges against Kem Sokha must be dropped and respect for fundamental freedoms restored’, 14 November 2019
ICJ, ‘Misuse of law will do long-term damage to Cambodia’, 26 July 2018
ICJ, ‘Cambodia: the ICJ condemns dissolution of main opposition party’, 16 November 2017NewsWeb stories