Sokha Quizzed on Foreign ‘Color Revolution’ Trainings for CNRP

4 min read
Kem Sokha leaves the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on September 28, 2022. (Hean Rangsey/VOD)
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Judges in the Kem Sokha treason trial questioned the opposition leader over training given to the disbanded CNRP by a Serbian group, which the government has previously accused of fomenting color revolution in eastern Europe.

Sokha’s trial entered its 58th hearing, with the judges getting close to the end of debating the facts in the case file — which covers a period beginning in 1992 and continues through his arrest in September 2017. The former CNRP president is being tried for alleged treason to mount an overthrow of the Cambodian government and is facing life in prison if found guilty.

The court delved into accusations that CNRP activists were being trained by the Serbia-based Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (Canvas) to topple the government following the example of other “color revolutions” in Tunisia, Libya and Syria.

Canvas was founded by Sloboban Djinovic and Srdja Popovic, part of the Otpor resistance to Yugoslavian President Slobodan Milosevic, who was ousted in 2000. The logo of the Otpor movement is a raised clenched fist.

These allegations were first made on an anonymous Facebook account called “Kon Khmer,” and republished by government-friendly media, including Fresh News. “Kon Khmer,” in one post, alleged that the CNRP had received $390,000 from Canvas and that the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and political NGO International Republican Institute were working with Sokha’s family to oust the prime minister.

The judges showed a group photo of alleged CNRP youth activists outside the Phnom Penh International Airport and photos of them seemingly in Jakarta, Indonesia, being trained by Canvas trainers. They also showed training material and presentation that was allegedly used in the training.

Some of the slides showed imagery of women handing flowers to soldiers, shirts with pictures of a raised fist, and protesters wearing armbands. The government has claimed all these motifs were later used in CNRP rallies — pointing to party leaders with raised fists and Mu Sochua handing lotus stems to security personnel at Freedom Park — and were a result of foreign training.

Judge Seng Leang questioned Sokha about three meetings attended by CNRP youth: an August 2016 meeting in Jakarta and two meetings in Phnom Penh at Raffles Le Royal and Sunway Hotel. He asked Sokha if CNRP was affiliated to Canvas and requested the training.

Sokha denied knowing about Canvas or sending youth activists for any training, adding that he didn’t remember who was head of the youth wing in 2016. He said his daughter, Kem Monovithya, was not involved with the training.

Monovithya worked in the CNRP’s public affairs department and was also a target of “Kon Khmer,” which released posts showing her with a U.S. Embassy official and American journalist, and attending a political rally in Taiwan.

Judge Leang then named the attendees at these meetings: Kampong Chhnang provincial youth leader Kao Loh, Poipet youth head Leng Vibol, activists San Narith, Keo Srey Neat, Hun Hoeun, Heng Samnang, Chhun Kong, Song Narith, Ma Chetra and Heng Piseth, and provincial party official Ke Samphos. Sokha said he only knew Samphos.

The judge then made connections between the training material and Kem Sokha’s 2013 speech in Australia — the alleged smoking gun in this case — and his specific mention of Yugoslavia in the speech.

“This is a detail of experiences from Yugoslavia. Are these the strategies and experiences you were trained in?” Leang asked.

“I have not been trained in these ways. They just stated that in Yugoslavia, it was done this way,” Sokha said, referring to study tours he had taken in the past to learn about democratic movements. “If the judge continues to question me like this, I will ask to play my full speech.”

The court also questioned Sokha about the Black Monday campaign, which was started by civil society in 2016 to protest the arrest of Adhoc staffers in connection to an alleged love scandal involving Sokha and a hairdresser.

Prosecutors played a six-minute video showing CNRP leaders Sam Rainsy, Sochua and Eng Chhai Eang wearing black and making speeches in support of the campaign. Sokha did not feature in this video.

When questioned about this, Sokha said he didn’t remember or was not involved in this campaign. The prosecutors still pushed Sokha for answers, who answered his CNRP colleagues were likely working in their personal capacity.

“It is a personal matter. The CPP also has a bad person, the court also has a bad person but it is not the principle of the court and the CPP,” he said. “If the president of the court commits a wrongdoing, does it represent the court?”

Sokha has routinely questioned some of the evidence presented against him which featured Rainsy and other CNRP colleagues, with the former CNRP president challenging that it did not support the treason charges against him.

The trial will continue on October 5. Chak Sopheap, director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, which was founded by Sokha, said she had been summoned by the court to appear on October 5 but had a previously planned international visit. She has been questioned during the investigation phase of the case and also attended an early hearing in the trial.

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