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Further delays to the opposition leader’s trial have spurred suspicions that the court’s glacial pace is a means of preventing Sokha from competing in next year’s elections.
PHNOM PENH--Kem Sokha's defense team has resubmitted their third request to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in which they implored that the opposition leader’s trial be resumed as soon as possible.
This comes after a range of high-profile court cases, including the mass trial of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) members, Rong Chhun and a string of activists have all gone ahead, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
As such, Sokha’s legal team have attempted to ascertain why his case is being treated so differently. They have warned that further delays to Sokha’s trial may constitute an infringement of his right to a speedy and fair trial.
Municipal Court spokesperson Y Rin said that the letter from Sokha’s lawyers had been received, but added that it was not the court’s decision.
“We sent it to the President of the Trial Chamber and the decision is up to the President of the Trial Chamber,” he said.
Rin justified the delays to Sokha’s case by claiming that the courts were prioritizing the cases where defendants were currently detained. Given that Sokha is not in custody, Rin said, the cases involving detainees are the priority for bail purposes.
Chan Chen, a lawyer working for Kem Sokha said that his group has sent request letters to the court twice already, with the first one being declined on the grounds of COVID-19 concerns and then receiving no reply from the courts to their second request.
He noted that the Ministry of Justice had also failed to reply to similar requests.
“The court has no reason to postpone it,” he said.
Spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice Chin Malin repeated sentiments expressed by Rin, adding only that Sokha’s case was no more important than solving the problem of overcrowding in prisons.
He made no mention of the Justice Ministry’s involvement in the overcrowding of prisons, which house some 40,000 Cambodians in facilities designed to hold 26,000. As of Dec. 9, 2020 just 20 of the estimated 40,000 people behind bars had been tested for COVID-19.
“There are many cases, the courts cannot hold all the hearings at the same time,” he said.
Arrested in 2017, Kem Sokha has spent the past four years detained in one form or another, but with the COVID-19 pandemic being used as a cover for various human rights abuses in Cambodia, the hint that Sokha’s trial may be dragged out until 2024 has widely been regarded as a means from keeping the opposition leader from participating in politics before the next elections.
“The long delays to an already old case, which the tribunal has already debated a lot, are not good options, it should not be left too long,” wrote Sokha's lawyers in a letter.