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Cambodia Opposition Leader May Be Prevented From Attending ‘Treason’ Hearing

Opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party President Kem Sokha shows off his ballot before voting in local elections in Chak Angre Leu on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Sunday, June 4, 2017. Cambodians are voting in local elections that could shake longtime ruler Hun Sen's grip on power. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Kem Sokha has been in detention at Trapaing Phlong prison in Tbong Khmum province since his arrest on September 3.

Cambodia’s opposition leader Kem Sokha is due to go to court on Tuesday, accused of conspiring with Washington to unseat Prime Minister Hun Sen, but officials do not seem to be able to agree on whether he should be allowed to appear in court, citing safety concerns.

On Friday, the director of the Department of Prisons wrote to the court to ask it to reconsider its request to release Sokha from temporary detention in the remote Trapaing Phlong prison in Tbong Khmum province where he has been held since his arrest on September 3.

In the letter, Chan Kimseng wrote that the prison department had concerns for Sokha’s safety in the event of an “accident while traveling”.

Appeals Court spokesman Touch Tharith said that the court would continue with the planned hearing “even if Mr. Kem Sokha is absent.”

“Transporting the criminal is the responsibility of the department of prisons. Therefore, the hearing will proceed. However, the court wants the offender to be present during the hearing, but it will proceed regardless,” he added.

Sam Sokong, one of five lawyers representing Sokha, said the purported safety concerns were “irrational and unacceptable” and added that if Sokha was prevented from attending a key hearing in a case dealing with treason-related charges the whole process would be “unfair”.

“In a legal process, considering the rights of the defendant, the defendant must be allowed to attend his or her hearing,” he said.