Witness Questioning Begins in Kem Sokha Trial

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Kem Sokha leaves the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on October 5, 2022. (Hean Rangsey/VOD)

A Phnom Penh court questioned one witness in the Kem Sokha treason trial on Wednesday, mostly focusing on any foreign assistance or direction on political decisions made by the former CNRP president.

The trial resumed on Wednesday and will now proceed with the questioning of witnesses. There were six witnesses summoned to court, but the judges only questioned former Sam Rainsy Party president Kong Korm.

Korm’s questioning centered around whether the actions of senior CNRP leaders at demonstrations after the 2013 election at Freedom Park were approved by the party; Sokha’s 2013 speech in Australia; and factors that played into the merging of the Sam Rainsy Party and Sokha’s Human Rights Party in 2012.

When prosecutor Chhay Hong asked Korm about Sokha’s Australia speech — specifically the part where he says there can be no change with no risk and asking the prime minister to step down — Korm seemed to implicate Sokha.

“The language saying, if one does not take risks then there will be no change, I think was a form of revolution outside the votes,” Korm said.

He was then asked whether anyone had supported the merger of the two parties in 2012, to which Korm said rights NGOs had already been against Sokha creating his Human Rights Party and wanted him to support Rainsy’s eponymous party instead. Also, when Korm and Rainsy were creating the Khmer Nation Party in the late 1990s, they had received consultation from U.S. group the International Republican Institute (IRI).

Government lawyer Ly Chantola asked if Korm knew about a meeting Rainsy had with the late U.S. Senator John McCain in 1995 and about any ongoing connections between them, as well as seminars and training organized by the IRI.

Judge Kuy Sao jumped in to ask whether IRI had held secret meetings with the CNRP’s leadership.

“I only know that IRI had invited the leaders for discussion and held seminars and met activists in the provinces who needed experience,” he said. “Mostly, it was about plans to have a democratic structure for the party.”

At one point, defense lawyer Meng Sopheary pointed to the announced coalition between the Candlelight Party and Khmer Will Party, where Korm is an honorary president, and asked if foreign influence was behind this move.

Judge Sao interjected and said the question was not relevant to the facts of the case and that Sopheary should restrict her questions to the case file.

The trial hearing on Wednesday earlier kicked off with judges questioning Sokha about a training held by Serbia-based group Canvas, which has been accused by the government of assisting the CNRP to foment a “color revolution.”

Sokha said he had already answered these questions and even made a few sarcastic comments about the court’s processes. Judge Sao did not take to this kindly and threatened Sokha.

“If you still show behavior like this, you could be subjected to pretrial detention again,” Sao said.

The five other witnesses who were slated to be questioned are rights activist Chak Sopheap, CPP spokesperson Chhim Phal Virun, CNRP youth member Seng Sovanna, Borei Keila activist Sar Sorn and another man named Khoeun Virath, whose link to the case was not announced in court.

The trial is scheduled to resume on October 12 with a full-day hearing, where witnesses are expected to be questioned during both the morning and afternoon.

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