Human Rights Watch (HRW) says Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha is being denied a right to a public trial in the “fabricated” treason case against him.
“The bogus prosecution of Kem Sokha is made even worse by unjustifiably keeping the media and rights monitors out of the courtroom,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of the New York-based group. “Cambodian authorities should drop the charges against Sokha instead of trying to keep his shabby and unlawful treatment out of public view.”
Sokha, who headed up the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was arrested in September 2017 on treason charges as part of an alleged foreign plot to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Sen, who has been in power for 35 years.
The CNRP was subsequently banned, in what the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights chairperson Charles Santiago called “the final nail in the coffin for Cambodian democracy.”
Sokha, 66, faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s East Asia regional director, had earlier criticized Cambodian authorities for limiting access to the courtroom as the trial got underway on Jan. 15. The trial is expected to take three months.
According to HRW, the court issued a notice on Jan. 10 saying only 30 seats would be available inside the courtroom for observers. Twenty-three of those seats, however, were allegedly reserved for diplomats, while requests from journalists and monitors to receive an observer pass went unanswered.
HRW said that when rights groups and monitors appeared at the courtroom on Jan. 15, they were told it was already full. Observers inside the court, however, told HRW there were many unoccupied seats in the gallery. Two journalists who reportedly managed their way inside the courtroom that morning reportedly were not allowed back in when court resumed in the afternoon.
“The empty seats at Kem Sokha’s trial make a mockery of government claims that there is no room for journalists and human rights monitors in the courtroom,” Robertson said.
“We expect that the European Union and other concerned governments will be watching the Sokha case closely and the truth about these sham proceedings will eventually come out.”
The Sokha trial is transpiring as the European Union is set next month to determine whether to maintain Cambodia’s tariff-free access to its markets under the “Everything But Arms” scheme for developing nations.
The European Union has called for Sokha’s release.