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Court Warns Kem Sokha Over Personal Travel to Provinces

Kem Sokha leaves the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after his trial finished on 11 February, 2020 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (Malis Tum/VOA Khmer)

A Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge has warned opposition leader Kem Sokha against violating his bail conditions, after a close aide posted pictures on social media of the former CNRP president traveling to the provinces, with a few images showing him talking to individuals.

Muth Chantha, a close aide of Kem Sokha, has posted pictures over the last three weeks of the opposition leader traveling to Kampong Cham, Siem Reap, Pursat and Banteay Meanchey provinces, often accompanied by his lawyer Chan Chen and small group of people.

Presiding judge Kuy Sao, who is overseeing Kem Sokha’s treason trial, issued a letter on July 20 asking the opposition leader to not violate his bail conditions. Kuy Sao added that Kem Sokha had done some activities in provinces, such as visiting and meeting the people and rallying with supporters.

“The trial chamber noted that all these activities would go beyond the limitation or would violate the obligations of being under the court supervision, which is being imposed on the accused person,” read the letter.

Kem Sokha was arrested from his residence in September 2017, for alleged treason and placed in pre-trial detention at a Tbong Khmum prison. He was released on bail and kept under judicial supervision and effective house arrest from September 2018, which was then further relaxed in November 2019.

The political leader is still banned from conducting any political activity or leaving the country. The treason trial against Kem Sokha commenced in February but was suspended on account of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Court spokesperson Y Rin did not comment on when Kem Sokha’s trial would resume soon, but said the opposition leader should adhere to the bail restrictions placed by the Phnom Penh court, calling it a “red line” that shouldn’t be crossed.

Chan Chen, one of Kem Sokha’s lawyers, said the opposition leader had gone to the provinces in his personal capacity, such as a visit with his wife to the Angkor Wat complex last weekend, and should not be viewed as political activity.

He added that any meetings with people were incidental and that Kem Sokha had not planned meetings with a political intent.

“He meets dozens of people who respect and love him, so is this illegal?” Chan Chen said.

“In my opinion, it could be the restriction of his rights and freedom. I understand that this letter is not just a reminder, but also an immediate warning,” he added.