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UN Rapporteur Pushes for Kem Sokha’s Release, Rights Group Calls For Sustained Pressure

Leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Kem Sokha attends a meeting with the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Patrick Murphy at his home in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, November 11, 2019.

United Nations Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith on Tuesday called on the government to either conclude the case against opposition leader Kem Sokha or drop the charges against him in order to restore his political and civil rights.

The special rapporteur’s statement follows changes made to Kem Sokha’s bail condition by a Phnom Penh court, allowing him to travel within the country, but still preventing him from going overseas or taking part in politics. Kem Sokha was arrested in 2017 on alleged treason charges, and despite the court concluding its investigation he has yet to be tried in court.

Smith acknowledged the “partial lifting” of the judicial restrictions in a statement released on Tuesday, but said the court proceedings needed to be concluded or for the charges to be released.

“The lifting of Mr. Sokha’s house arrest is a progressive development, however, I regret that the court order continues to limit his civil and political rights in particular his freedom of movement and freedom of association,” she said, in the statement.

The rapporteur also expressed concern over 85 individuals who have been arrested in relation to a planned return by exiled CNRP leaders, including Mu Sochua and Sam Rainsy. A group of CNRP members remains in Malaysia, unable to travel to Cambodia.

Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin said Smith had a right to express her opinion, but it would not affect the court’s procedures.

“Her concerns are her personal views. But everything has to be done in accordance with the legal provisions and procedures that are currently in effect,” he said.

Kem Sokha on Tuesday met with the Australian and German ambassadors, but did not issue any statement following the meetings. On Tuesday, following a meeting with the U.S. ambassador, he said it was unclear what the court considered to be political speech and was choosing to not comment until that was clarified.

A close aide of Kem Sokha, Muth Chantha, said the meetings were a courtesy visit to inquire about the opposition leader’s personal situation.

“The ambassadors had courtesy meetings and asked about his wellbeing, discussed about his health and then exchanged opinions about the future vision to help build a strong democracy in Cambodia,” he said.

Late Tuesday, the European Commission announced that it had completed its report on whether Cambodia would lose its ‘Everything But Arms’ trade privileges. The report was not released on Tuesday and has been sent to the Cambodian government for an official response.

“While the European Union remains committed to working with the Cambodian authorities on this aim, real and credible improvement on the issues of concern is needed in order to avoid the withdrawal of EBA preferences,” read a statement announcing the completion of the report.

Hours before the EU’s announcement, rights group Human Rights Watch released a statement calling on the economic bloc and international government to demand the unconditional release of Kem Sokha and his CNRP colleagues, and to not ease pressure on the Cambodian government.

“The European Union and other foreign governments should not be fooled but should ramp-up pressure on the government to immediately and unconditionally release Sokha and other prisoners held for exercising their basic rights,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.