CNRP president Kem Sokha can get his wish for a speedy trial if he goes back to jail, as the courts are prioritizing cases for those detained in the country’s overcrowded prisons, Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin said on Friday.
Sokha was arrested for alleged treason in 2017 and spent a year in Trapaing Phlong prison in Tbong Khmum province before being released on bail and put under court supervision. His trial began in January 2020, but has been stalled due to Covid-19.
His arrest, and the subsequent dissolution of the country’s main opposition party, has sparked international condemnation. The E.U. partially withdrew trade preferences with Cambodia last year, citing his case and other alleged human rights abuses.
Taking questions from journalists after a workshop on dispute resolution mechanisms, Malin repeated the ministry’s recent message that the courts are trying to push through cases to reduce crowding in prisons.
Asked about Sokha, the spokesperson said the same principle applied.
“If Mr. Kem Sokha wants to proceed like the others, go back into confinement. Go back to Trapaing Phlong. [His case] will be solved first,” Malin said.
“The goal of our campaign is to prioritize criminal cases that have people in detention. That is why other cases are proceeding while Kem Sokha’s case cannot be processed.”
He added that resuming Sokha’s trial was ultimately up to the courts.
“The court has its reasons, and there is no institution that can force the court to hold a hearing or not hold a hearing, or hold a hearing at this time or that time,” Malin said. “The Ministry of Justice also cannot force it. It’s up to the discretion of the judge.”
Pheng Heng, one of Sokha’s lawyers, later said that he would continue to press for the trial to be resumed.
“The case of His Excellency Kem Sokha is an old case,” Heng said. “It has taken longer than a normal case.”
Sokha’s lawyers have filed three requests to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court for the trial to resume, but they have all been rejected.
The CNRP, formed as a merger of two opposition parties in 2012, pushed the ruling CPP to near defeat in 2013, and made major gains during commune-level elections in 2017.
The party was disbanded a few months later amid a crackdown on civil society and independent media.
More than 150 CNRP leaders and supporters are currently on trial over their alleged participation in the activities of the outlawed party.