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Court Asks Kem Sokha About “Secret Structure” Of Volunteers At CCHR

Kem Sokha talks to VOA reporters before he leaves for the court for his trial over the charge of “Conspiring With Foreign State” on 16th January, 2020.(Malis Tum/VOA)
Kem Sokha talks to VOA reporters before he leaves for the court for his trial over the charge of “Conspiring With Foreign State” on 16th January, 2020.(Malis Tum/VOA)

The Council of Judges asked opposition leader Kem Sokha Wednesday morning if he ran a “secret structure” of volunteers at the provincial offices of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, an allegation flatly denied by the defendant.

Kem Sokha’s treason trial resumed Wednesday morning with one of the three judges questioning Kem Sokha about his work at human rights NGO CCHR. The judge Seng Leang asked about the staff who worked at the NGO, the internal and hiring policies of CCHR and then proceeded to ask about CCHR’s provincial offices and their staffing.

The judge cited testimony from Chim Phal Virun, a former CCHR staffer and now-spokesman for the ruling party, where he claimed that Kem Sokha and Pa Nguon Teang, also a former CCHR employee, ran a “secret structure” of volunteers out of CCHR’s provincial offices.

“Kem Sokha set up the secret agency,” judge Seng Leang said, quoting Chim Phal Virun’s testimony. The judge then wanted to know who organized this structure and its purpose.

Kem Sokha immediately said that he would not answer such a question. “I am not going to answer this,” he said.

Last week, Kem Sokha told the court he would not answer questions based on Chim Phal Virun’s testimony because Phal Virun had a “conflict of interest.”

The judge and one of the two prosecutors then queried Kem Sokha about staff who worked at CCHR from 2002 to 2007, listing off at least 15 names, around half of which the opposition leader said he was aware of.

However, the judges or prosecution did not make clear how this line of questioning was related to Kem Sokha’s charge of conspiring with foreign powers.

At one point, the prosecutor Plang Sophal said the charge of conspiracy with a foreign power, Article 443 of the Criminal Code, focused on the Cambodian individual involved in the conspiracy and did not have to delve into the involved countries.

He was responding to defense criticism that the prosecution had only presented one video in court, of the 2013 speech, and that no other evidence had been presented to support the elements of the charge, including which countries aided in the conspiracy.

The prosecution also continued to question about the content and intention behind Kem Sokha’s public forums in the province. He refused to answer the same questions and repeated that he was only advocating for human rights and democracy.

Again, when asked questions about U.S. funding of CCHR or Kem Sokha’s references to “they” in the 2013 speech in Australia, which the prosecution and government has claimed was a reference the U.S. government, Kem Sokha asked the court to summons U.S. officials to answer these questions.

“Please, judge, summon the Americans and ask them to answer these questions,” he said in court.

These references to “they” in the 2013 alleged “treason” video was raised by the prosecution on Wednesday, which continued to press that Kem Sokha was changing the meaning of his 2013 speech to supporters in Australia.

Kem Sokha uses the word “they” in the video on multiple occasions, especially when talking about being asked to step down from politics to start an NGO or when he talked about suggestions he received to use the “Yugoslavia model” to change the leadership in Cambodia.

Kem Sokha has said that on occasion he was referring to the U.S. government but also to Cambodian Americans living in the U.S.

The prosecutor Plang Sophal asked the court to call a Khmer-language expert to ascertain the meaning of Kem Sokha’s words, despite the opposition leader asking the court to not ask a third party to make sense of his words.

“These are my words. This is my intention. This is my will,” he said. “Please do not make it different from what I said.”

After a short deliberation, presiding judge Kuy Sao ruled that the court did not need an expert to ascertain the meaning of Kem Sokha’s 2013 Australia speech and that the bench was capable to make that assessment.

Toward the end of the hearing, all parties were discussing the 34 pieces of evidence submitted by the defense last week, with the prosecution and government asking for amendments and clarifications about the evidence.

As the discussion proceeded Ang Oudom, a new lawyer on Kem Sokha’s team, stood up to point out that the court should have made these considerations during the investigation stage, in effect, objecting to the evidence his colleagues were looking to present in court.

The government lawyers were quick to jump on this error, with Luy Chanthola saying that the government agreed with Ang Oudom.

While admonishing Ang Oudom for not following the proceedings in the preceding weeks, presiding judge Kuy Sao said these arguments had already been made and the evidence had already been admitted last week.

The court will next take up Kem Sokha activities from 2007 to 2012, during which Kem Sokha left CCHR and founded the Human Rights Party.