Cambodia’s former opposition leader, Kem Sokha, appeared in court for the first time on Thursday in a contentious treason case that has polarized political opinion.
The court denied bail to the ex-president of the now-defunct Cambodia National Rescue Party after his lawyers claimed that he had fallen ill and needed treatment.
The hearing was held behind closed doors with only Sokha’s legal team allowed to attend.
Meng Sopheary, a lawyer for the defense, said after the session that Sokha had pleaded innocent to the charges and requested bail on medical grounds, which the court had denied, claiming he would commit further offenses if released and prejudice proceedings.
“We think this is not correct. First, there was no offense. My client did not cause chaos or crime. He has his own job, responsibilities, and family, and he guarantees he will attend court whenever he is summoned,” Sopheary said.
The Thursday hearing was the first time Sokha had appeared in court since he was arrested five months ago and charged with treason for allegedly conspiring with a foreign power to overthrow Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Following Sokha’s arrest in November, the government took the CNRP to the Supreme Court, which ordered the party be dissolved.
Officials declined to comment on why Sokha had been brought from prison to attend Thursday’s hearing despite the authorities previously claiming his attendance at proceedings would be a security risk.
Soeung Senkarona, a legal officer with local human rights group Adhoc, said denying Sokha bail was politically motivated, because he posed no flight risk.
“He should be considered for release. The public has already concluded that there is a political agenda behind this,” he said.