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Defense Distances Kem Sokha From Sam Rainsy, US Ambassador Criticizes Prosecution’s “Conspiracy Theories”

US Ambassador to Cambodia, W. Patrick Murphy, leaves Phnom Penh Municipal Court after joining Kem Sokha trial for 15 minutes in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, March 12th, 2020. (Malis Tum/VOA Khmer)
US Ambassador to Cambodia, W. Patrick Murphy, leaves Phnom Penh Municipal Court after joining Kem Sokha trial for 15 minutes in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, March 12th, 2020. (Malis Tum/VOA Khmer)

Opposition leader Kem Sokha’s defense team attempted on Thursday to distance him from the allegedly “violent” speeches of Sam Rainsy, saying videos displayed in court of the latter was made in his personal capacity and not reflective of the party’s ideology.

The prosecution and council of judges have repeatedly attempted to question Kem Sokha’s insistence that he only used nonviolent political methods by associating him with the speeches made by exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

The council of judges and prosecution have characterized Sam Rainsy’s speeches, played in court over the last few weeks, as evidence of his alleged proclivity for “violence,” though providing little evidence to support the claim.

The defense in an attempt to push back at that allegation, started a convoluted attempt to distinguish Sam Rainsy’s speeches from the party’s official policies. The party’s policies, they said, were approved by the party high command or, in the case of campaign messaging, accepted by the National Election Committee.

The defense said there was a difference between “political speech,” which they claim was what Sam Rainsy’s allegedly offensive remarks were, and “political messages” or “political programs” that were more reflective of the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s policy positions.

Kem Sokha said Sam Rainsy’s speeches played in court were not reflective of the party’s political messaging, which was always approved by the party’s permanent committee.

“For political messages, we give that power to the permanent committee to take decisions,” he said in court. “So, the speech was based on the individual.”

“What Sam Rainsy said does not reflect the policy of the party or messages of the party,” he added.

However, the defense was unable to address whether Sam Rainsy, in at least one of the allegedly “violent” videos from their visit to Finland in January 2013, was speaking as co-founder of the CNRP or in his personal capacity.

Defense lawyer Chan Chen eventually asked Kem Sokha if he established the CNRP with the purpose of inciting violence or starting a color revolution.

“In my life, I don’t have any activity that has the purpose of creating violence, revolution or bloodshed that would cause the country to breakup,” Kem Sokha replied.

Halfway through the hearing, U.S. Ambassador W Patrick Murphy observed the proceedings Thursday morning, only to leave a few minutes later to address the media outside the court.

The ambassador said the embassy had closely followed the trial and that he was troubled by the prosecution’s use of “fabricated conspiracy theories” about the United States.

“We’re troubled to see prosecutors that have introduced into the courtroom fabricated conspiracy theories about the United States,” he told reporters outside court.

Kem Sokha is charged with “conspiracy with foreign powers”, with the prosecution repeatedly linking United States officials or U.S-based organizations to an alleged color revolution attempt in 2013.

Murphy added that the U.S. had invested funds to strengthen all political parties and institutions in Cambodia, and always in compliance with the Cambodian Constitution.

He said that Kem Sokha’s credentials were acknowledged world over and that he looked forward to the opposition leader’s political rights being restored, as well as all Cambodians being able to freely participate in the political process.

The council of judges ended the hearing early on Thursday, announcing that it would resume on March 25 and 26, without giving a reason for skipping trial next week.