The trial on treason charges of Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha will go ahead as scheduled on Jan. 19, with the government refusing to interfere, a government spokesman said on Friday.
Options for Kem Sokha’s release can be considered once the trial ends, however, spokesman Phay Siphan told RFA. “In Cambodia, we can have political solutions only after the cases in court conclude.”
When Kem Sokha’s trial ends, Prime Minister Hun Sen can request amnesty from Cambodia’s king if he doesn’t think the release of the former opposition leader will harm national security and public order, Phay Siphan said.
Kem Sokha’s lawyers were not available for comment Friday but have previously said they want to see all charges dropped against him.
Kem Sokha, then president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was arrested in September 2017 over an alleged plot backed by the United States to overthrow the government of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than 35 years.
Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP two months later in a move that allowed Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party to win all 125 seats in Parliament in a July 2018 election and drew U.S. sanctions and the suspension of trade privileges with the European Union.
Speaking to RFA, political analyst Seng Sary said that several options now exist for the government to free Kem Sokha when his trial ends. “The court can acquit him of his charges and then politically rehabilitate him, or the court can convict him and then release him on Hun Sen’s request,” he said.
Scores of CNRP members and supporters have been incarcerated on charges widely regarded as politically motivated and are caught in a tortuous legal process made slower by COVID-19 restrictions in the country.
On Friday, a court in central Cambodia’s Tboung Khmum province released two CNRP activists after they had served one-year prison terms on charges of “incitement.” Following their release, Mak Sam An and Prau Chan Thoeun told RFA they were arrested on Jan. 14, 2021, after monitoring the trial of other CNRP activists in Municipal Court in the capital Phnom Penh.
“I didn’t do anything wrong. I just went to listen to the hearing, but they arrested me anyway. The authorities violated my freedom. I can’t accept this,” Mak Sam Ath said.
Am Sam Ath of the Cambodia-based rights group Licadho said the two CNRP members had simply exercised their rights and were unjustly convicted.
“We urge the authorities and the courts to respect people’s freedoms and implement the laws correctly instead of just charging them however they like. If they don’t, the people will criticize the authorities for carrying out politically motivated arrests,” he said.
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