Kem Sokha Case Reaches Four-Year Mark

September 2 marks four years since Kem Sokha, the former president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was arrested. Photo: AFP.

No end in sight as COVID slows court proceedings

PHNOM PENH--It has been four years since Kem Sokha, the former president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was arrested on the night of September 2, 2017. His case is still pending and no one can say when it will end. It’s up to the Phnom Penh court.

Meng Sopheary, one of Kem Sokha’s attorneys, said she and her group planned to have a discussion with the court about dropping the charges. Sopheavy said Kem Sokha had done nothing wrong to the people and the nation and that his accusation is an injustice.

“We will not demand that the trial continue because we have demanded a lot already,” Sopheary said. “We will request for the charge to be dropped.”

Cambodian law says investigating judges have a year to complete criminal cases and send them to trial. The judges can prolong the investigation for another six months if the case has not been completed.

However, the trial phase does not have a specific timeframe.

Sok Sam Oeun, a veteran lawyer, said the court can postpone the trial in any case for as long as possible but such a long delay is a violation of the rights of the accused according to international treaties.

Chin Malin, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice, said the trial postponement in Kem Sokha’s case is not against the law.

“The court has a legitimate reason,” said Malin. “The extension of the case is not against the law because Kem Sokha is not under pre-trial detention.”

Suos Vithya Randy, deputy director of the Phnom Penh Judicial Administration Secretariat, said it is unknown at this time when Kem Sokha’s case will resume or if it will be postponed.

“I will check and ask the judge who is handling the case of Kem Sokha,” Randy said.

Muth Chantha, Kem Sokha's cabinet chief, wrote on his official Facebook account that the court should re-hear the case to avoid an indefinite delay. He said that when justice is delayed, justice is denied for Kem Sokha, adding that Kem Sokha has always adhered to the law and court orders for the past four years.

“The case of Kem Sokha may be concluded in court based on reconciliation and national unity between Khmer people,” Chantha said.

Despite the uncertainty, it can be concluded that Kem Sokha’s case is unlikely to end before the 2022 commune election and the 2023 national election. In September 2020, Prime Minister Hun Sen revealed at a meeting of the Council of Ministers that Kem Sokha’s case could be postponed to 2024.

If so, Kem Sokha will not be able to take part in the election again. Only if there is a political solution, can he hope to end the court case and have a chance to run in 2023.

Kem Sokha was arrested at his home in Phnom Penh and sent to Trapeang Phlong prison in Tbong Khmum province, near the Vietnamese border.

After about a year, he was released on September 10, 2018, and returned to his home in Phnom Penh. However, he was still under the supervision of the court and could not travel away from home.

On November 10, 2019, the court granted him the right to travel anywhere in Cambodia but barred him from leaving the country and engaging in political activities. He can meet anyone but is forbidden from talking about politics.

In January 2020, his trial began but has been adjourned since mid-March of 2020 on the grounds of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Despite his attorney and national and international organizations urging the court to reopen the case, the court has refused, repeatedly citing the COVID-19 outbreak.

Kem Sokha has been charged with conspiring to overthrow the Cambodian government.

He was arrested and charged after a video showing a speech in Australia in 2013 was leaked on social media. In the video, he said he had well-known foreign professors, such as professors in the United States, who could help advise him on how to change leaders in Cambodia.

Additional reporting by Teng Yalirozy

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