Dozens of supporters gathered at former opposition leader Kem Sokha’s Phnom Penh house over the weekend as he continues to toe the line around his ban on political activities.
Sokha was president of the main opposition CNRP when he was arrested in September 2017 for alleged treason, and his party was dissolved two months later. Sokha was released from jail a year later, but remains banned from conducting political activities.
This year he gradually began making visits around the country, though a Phnom Penh judge warned in a letter in July that Sokha “needs to maintain the spirit of firm and serious respect and adhere to the duties that the court required of the accused.”
Sokha’s assistant Muth Chantha said on Monday that people had visited Sokha over the weekend from around the country but they were “normal visits to ask about his well-being.” Sokha’s lawyer Meng Sopheary added that they were simply social visits.
Political analyst Em Sovannara said a meeting between a former politician and his former supporters could easily be viewed as a political meeting.
But he said the ruling party should see it as an indication that there are people out there who want more than one viable party in Cambodia.
Though several minor parties contested the 2018 National Assembly election, the ruling CPP won all 125 seats.
“It should be thought of as there being political currents in the country that doesn’t belong to only one party,” Sovannara said.
Phnom Penh court spokesperson Y Rin hung up when asked to comment on the meetings.
Sok Eysan, spokesperson for the ruling CPP, dismissed the meetings, saying the small number of visitors gave no indication of Sokha having much popular support.
“It’s a personal sentiment between him, who used to be the party president, and his subordinates who can go to greet him. It is so. But greetings from fewer than 100 to 200 people, it doesn’t mean he has much support from the masses,” Eysan said.
Photos posted to Facebook by supporters’ accounts showed about 20 people each at two separate meetings on Saturday and Sunday, with the visitors bringing gifts for Sokha.
Sokha’s treason trial began earlier this year, but was postponed due to Covid-19. Sokha denies the charges against him, which have been criticized by some foreign governments, including leading to the partial suspension of trade benefits from the E.U.