Judges in the Kem Sokha treason trial said they will start interrogating witnesses, marking a progression in a case that has been discussing evidence and facts since January 2020.
Sokha is being tried for treason for allegedly trying to overthrow the Cambodian government with the aid of foreign powers, and faces life in prison if found guilty. The trial has been sluggish — in part due to the Covid-19 pandemic — because the defense and prosecution have routinely squabbled over evidence and facts of the case.
At the start of the 56th hearing on Wednesday, judge Koy Sao announced that the trial would proceed to question witnesses in the case next month. Witnesses living in Phnom Penh would be questioned on October 5 and those in the provinces will be present in court on October 12.
Trials in Cambodian courts normally follow three broad phases: presenting evidence and facts of the case, cross-examination of witnesses, and final statements and rebuttals, after which a verdict is delivered.
Sokha’s lawyers have routinely complained about how slow the trial was proceeding, with the former CNRP president often refusing to answer questions he says have already been addressed in court.
As the hearing proceeded, the court resumed examination of events at the Dragon Bridge on Norodom Boulevard, which was discussed last week. The prosecution played a video that had party vice president Mu Sochua talking to supporters near the bridge.
“Our aim today is to liberate Freedom Park. Please, brothers, come here to express your opinion,” she said in the video.
Prosecutor Chhay Hong questioned Sokha about where she was speaking, with Sokha snapping back that he had already answered this question and was not responsible for events that occurred outside Freedom Park.
Hong continued to question Sokha and said he should take responsibility for 11 CNRP activists who were convicted of insurrection for being part of clashes at the bridge.
“This is an excuse without responsibility as one of the leaders of the CNRP. It meant that you had abandoned your members,” Hong said.
“I think it is not the duty of the prosecutor to use this kind of language. This language is the language of a politician. If the prosecutor speaks like this, I think it is not correct,” Sokha replied.
The comment led to another round of arguing between the prosecution and defense teams.
This continued till the judges called for a break, after which one of the judges asked a few more questions to Sokha about the clash. They then announced the end of Wednesday’s hearing.
Judges said they would continue the next hearing by discussing Sochua’s decision to place lotuses in the muzzles of guns held by security personnel at Freedom Park, the civil society-led Black Monday protests, and the training of CNRP activists in the country and overseas.
Witnesses previously named in the case include pro-opposition journalists Ma Chetra and Hun Dara, Borei Keila land rights activist Sor Sorn, and former CNRP grassroots officials Khoeun Virath and Leng Vibol.