PHNOM PENH: Former Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha is to remain in jail while awaiting his trial after the Appeal Court on Tuesday (Mar 27) upheld the decision of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to extend his pre-trial detention by an additional six months.
The decision was made without the presence of Sokha in response to his petition against the municipal court’s decision on Mar 5, which extended his detention to prevent new crimes and possible involvement with his accomplices, maintain public order, and ensure his participation in court procedures.
“This decision is unacceptable,” his lawyer Sam Sokong told Channel NewsAsia after Tuesday’s ruling.
“The law allows the investigating judge to extend pre-trial detention but the law also stipulates that the extension needs to have a specific and proper reason for it,” he explained.
“The reason for his extension is not specific or proper.”
Sokha, ex-leader of the now defunct Cambodia’s National Rescue Party, was arrested at his home in the capital in September 2017. He was later charged with treason over his alleged involvement in a conspiracy with foreign powers to overthrow Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government and disrupt national security.
His arrest came after the government released a video clip showing Sokha making a speech in Australia, where he mentioned he had been offered support by foreign powers to promote democracy in Cambodia.
Many rights activists view the treason charge against Sokha as the government’s way of getting rid of its political opponents ahead of the general election in July this year.
Shortly after Sokha’s arrest, his party was dissolved by the Supreme Court in November 2017. The ruling has also banned its 118 senior members from politics for five years.
Since his arrest, Sokha has been detained at a prison in Tbong Khmum near the border with Vietnam. If found guilty, he could face up to 30 years in prison. However, the date for his trial has not yet been set.
His lawyer Sokong told Channel NewsAsia his legal team will discuss with Sokha about appealing Tuesday’s decision.
“Based on the principle of intentional human rights, the accused should be given a fair and prompt trial."
On Mar 21, 45 countries called on Cambodia to reinstate the CNRP, release its leader and ensure the general election will be free and fair.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, however, maintained there will be no negotiation between his government and the defunct party, adding its dissolution is the Supreme Court’s verdict and that whoever opposes its ruling could face a jail sentence.
“I want to clarify two points. First, no negotiation with traitors. Second, no pardon or lesser sentence for a group of traitors,” he said in his speech at a graduation ceremony on Tuesday.
“Hun Sen is the person who ordered [Sokha’s arrest]. If there had been no order from Hun Sen, no one would have dared arrest him."
Despite Sokha’s absence at today’s hearing, security was tight around the Court of Appeal. Many CNRP supporters were chased away from the compound by security guards.