The presiding judge in the trial of Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha advised him Tuesday to adhere to a court order that forbids political activities, after the 67-year-old’s recent tour of parts of the country.
The written notice follows news that the chief of the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) had quietly begun visits to the provinces starting in early July, which one of his lawyers characterized as “sightseeing.”
“The trial council received a report from judicial police, who are in charge of implementing the court’s decision, stating that the charged person [Kem Sokha] was involved in activities, specifically in provinces where [he] met with villagers, held gatherings and supporters’ meetings,” Judge Kuy Sao said the statement, issued Monday.
“The council noticed that these activities might exceed the court’s boundaries or will lead to a breach in the court’s supervision order imposed on the accused,” the statement added.
Kem Sokha’s lawyer, Meg Sopheary, told RFA that Kem Sokha had traveled to Siem Reap province on Sunday, following recent trips to the provinces of Tbong Khmum, Pursat, Kampot, Battambang, and Banteay Meanchey.
The judge’s statement went on to remind Kem Sokha of the court’s Dec. 2, 2019 decision on bail conditions that bars him from getting involved in politics or traveling abroad.
“In order to ensure [the charged person’s] responsibility before the court and his personal security [for his own] benefit before the court trial, the council would like to remind the charged person that he must strictly adhere to [the court’s order] and the court order is still valid until the verdict is rendered,” the statement said.
‘Not a political activity’
In response to the court’s statement, Kem Sokha’s laywer Chan Chen told RFA’s Khmer Service that the CNRP leader has been adhering to the court’s order. He said that Kem Sokha met villagers and supporters accidently when he was traveling.
He added that if the court regarded Kem Sokha’s meeting with villagers as a violation of the courts order, the court has violated Kem Sokha’s freedom.
“He walked, he stood and met with supporters asking about their wellbeing. It is not a political activity. The court’s statement is a reminder but it was also served as a warning,” he said.
Political analyst Seng Sary told RFA that court’s statement shows that the government is concerned about protests, given that in neighboring Thailand, protestors are staging rallies against the Thai government.
RFA-affiliated Benar News reported Monday that large anti-government rallies were held in several parts of Thailand over the weekend over alleged government mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic and other concerns.
Analyst Kim Sok said Kem Sokha was “poking the water.”
“He was testing the court’s boundaries,” said Kim Sok, adding that the court’s statement reveals that Hun Sen is holding onto power with a tight grip and is not ready to let it go yet.
Kim Sok also said that Hun Sen is still afraid of Kem Sokha and self-exiled, acting CNRP chief Sam Rainsy.
“Hun Sen is holding onto power not only for himself, but for his successor,” said Kim Sok, referring to Hun Sen’s son Hun Manet.
RFA reported in late June that Hun Sen confirmed he was grooming his son to one day assume leadership of Cambodia.
Kem Sokha was arrested in September 2017 over an alleged plot to overthrow the government with the help of the U.S. government and the Supreme Court banned his party in November that year for its supposed role in the scheme.
The move to dissolve the CNRP was part of a wider crackdown by Prime Minister Hun Sen on the political opposition, NGOs, and the independent media that paved the way for his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in parliament in the country’s July 2018 general election.
Kem Sokha was released from pre-trial detention to house arrest in September 2018 and granted bail in November last year by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, the terms of which allowed him to travel within Cambodia but restricted him from taking part in any political activities.
His trial began on Jan. 15 but has been postponed while the country grapples with the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
Kem Sokha maintains his innocence and his lawyers have all along said that prosecutors lack evidence to convict.
His trial has been dismissed as a sham by rights groups and Western governments, and in March, U.S. Ambassador Patrick Murphy issued a rare statement denouncing what he said were “fabricated conspiracy theories about the United States” introduced by the prosecution.
Kem Sokha’s recent trips come about a month after Hun Sen met with him after he sent condolences over the death of Hun Sen’s mother-in-law and attended her funeral. The subject of the 50-minute meeting was never made public.
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