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PHNOM PENH--The international NGO Human Rights Watch Tuesday called on the Cambodian authorities to immediately and unconditionally drop the “bogus treason charges” against former political opposition leader Kem Sokha, according to its press release.
The NGO’s request follows the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s announcement Monday that Sokha’s trial would start at 8:30 a.m on Jan. 15.
“The case against Kem Sokha has always been a dubious excuse to attack the political opposition,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “Prime Minister Hun Sen needs to demonstrate to the European Union that he is genuinely prepared to end his campaign of political repression of opposition voices.”
Cambodia currently faces a suspension of the European Union’s Everything But Arms (EBA) trade scheme, which includes duty-free and quota-free market access, for failure to respect human rights and labor rights. The European Union finalized a preliminary report on a temporary suspension of trade preferences last month, with Cambodia having one month to respond.
According to Human Rights Watch, the European Commission has concluded in its report that the “detention and judicial supervision of Kem Sokha violate[d] Articles 19 and 25 of the ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights].
"The commission found the Cambodian government had seriously and systematically violated its obligations under articles 19 and 25 of the ICCPR, which enshrine the right to freedom of expression and political participation," it said.
Sokha was held in jail for one year following charges of treason and espionage that were filed against him in September 2017. He was released in September 2018 and transferred to his house, where he remained under de facto house arrest for another 14 months. The CNRP he had headed was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November 2017.
Releasing Sokha from house arrest last month was an empty gesture since he remains under restrictive conditions of judicial supervision, Human Rights Watch stated in its release. Moreover, while the 74 former opposition members were recently released from prison on bail, the authorities did not drop the charges against any of them, the NGO said.
“The EU shouldn’t be fooled by Hun Sen’s release of opposition members without dropping charges,” Robertson said. “The EU should keep up the pressure until exiled CNRP leaders can safely return and the party can fully take part in a fair democratic process.”