The treason case against opposition leader Kem Sokha is headed to trial, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court announced on Monday, a decision his lawyer said was regrettable.
Sokha was arrested in September 2017 for allegedly conspiring with the U.S. to topple the government. Two months later the Supreme Court dissolved his CNRP — the ruling party’s only viable challenger — ahead of last year’s national election.
He was jailed and later placed under de facto house arrest until he was released last month amid pressure from the E.U., which is reviewing Cambodia’s duty-free access to its markets due to political and human rights concerns. Sokha has yet to leave his property in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district due to ongoing court restrictions on “political activities.”
The European Commission has said Sokha’s arrest and detention and the CNRP’s dissolution, among other “repressive actions,” appeared to violate rights compliance requirements under the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) trade scheme.
“After thoroughly completing the investigation, the investigating judge has assessed that there is enough evidence to inculpate the accused, Kem Sokha, on the charge of ‘conspiracy with a foreign power,’” the court said on Monday.
The judge had ordered a trial hearing, it said, though it did not disclose a date for the trial.
Sokha’s lawyer Chan Chen told VOD on Tuesday that the decision was regrettable, with the defense team having requested that the case be dropped instead due to its political nature.
“My client is a politician, and my opinion is that this case is related more to politics,” Chen said. “Under these circumstances, if the court drops the charge against my client and gives him the opportunity to have a discussion to resolve [the political impasse], there would be a benefit for the nation and benefit for the people.”
“I want to see this the most,” he said, though he would not describe what he considered would be the benefit for the country.
On November 15, the Phnom Penh court closed the investigation into Sokha’s case, two years and two months after his arrest.
Chen argued that the length of the investigation could indicate uncertainty about the strength of the evidence against Sokha, which should work in his favor.
“Any doubt should benefit my client,” he said.
The government has until Thursday next week to respond to the E.U.’s preliminary findings in its review of the EBA agreement. The E.U.’s final decision is due in February.
(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)