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Cambodian court warns Kem Sokha against political activities

Judge refuses prosecutor's plea to press additional charges against former president of dissolved opposition party

Kem Sokha (right), former leader of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, greets the media at his home before leaving for the resumption of his trial on treason charges in Phnom Penh on Jan. 19

Kem Sokha (right), former leader of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, greets the media at his home before leaving for the resumption of his trial on treason charges in Phnom Penh on Jan. 19. (Photo: AFP)

Published: June 30, 2022 06:02 AM GMT

Updated: June 30, 2022 06:25 AM GMT

A Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge has warned Kem Sokha, former president of the court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), against conducting political activities.

Presiding Judge Kouy Sao, however, declined a prosecutor's request to have him charged.

Kem Sokha was warned that if he continued his political activities then the court would arrest him for provisional detention.

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“Kem Sokha was warned during the hearing and this was recorded in the minutes of the case,” a court spokesman said. “He is not allowed to do this again. If he continues, the court will take action.”

According to prosecutors, Kem Sokha allegedly met with supporters and engaged in political activity on recent trips to the countryside, which would have violated his bail conditions imposed amid his long-running treason trial.

“The co-lawyers, as well as Kem Sokha, would like to deny this. It was just social, humanitarian and traditional activities,” said Pheng Heng, one of his lawyers. “If the court deems it a political act, please only just issue a warning or determine what kind of action would allow him to continue.”

“If the court thinks that what I’ve done in the past violates the court’s ban or requirements, I am willing to stay home and wait for the trial date and come to the court"

He has been charged with treason and accused of conspiring with foreigners to topple Prime Minister Hun Sen amid a crackdown on political opposition in 2017 when 15 independent radio stations were forced to close and the courts dissolved the CNRP.

The Supreme Court then banned Kem Sokha and other CNRP officials from conducting political activities for five years.

“If the court thinks that what I’ve done in the past violates the court’s ban or requirements, I am willing to stay home and wait for the trial date and come to the court,” he said during a two-hour hearing on June 29.

Theoretically, the five-year ban was to be lifted this November and the prosecutors made their request for additional charges on the same day the government confirmed the next national election would be held on July 23 next year.

Kem Sokha’s absence from the political stage enabled the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats contested at national elections held in 2018, and a massive 74 percent of the popular vote at this month’s commune elections.

Shortly after the commune elections, Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced about 60 opposition supporters to between five and eight years behind bars for incitement, including the Khmer Bible editor and American lawyer Theary Seng, who is appealing.

Her trial was one of two mass trials initiated against 138 former CNRP leaders who allegedly backed an attempt by leader-in-exile Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia in November 2019 when he vowed to oust Hun Sen.

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