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Defense Lawyers Undecided on Kem Sokha’s Participation in January Trial

In this photo taken on Nov. 11, 2019, leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) Kem Sokha attends a meeting with the U.S. Ambassador to Cambodia Patrick Murphy at his home in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

A lawyer for opposition leader Kem Sokha said the legal team had yet to decide if the former lawmaker would attend the January 15 trial that will rule on whether he conspired with a foreign power to overthrow the government.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has set January 15, 2020, as the date for Kem Sokha’s treason trial, more than two years after he was first arrested in a midnight raid at his residence in September 2017.

Chan Chen, one of Sokha’s lawyers, said the legal team had not discussed whether Kem Sokha would attend the trial, but that the lawyers would definitely be present in court on January 15.

He maintained that a political resolution to the case was preferable, rather than a trial.

“Although the public, international community and myself as a lawyer know the result, we have no choice if the plaintiff is still pushing [the case] through the courts or the court accelerates it,” he said.

“We have no choice because we are law abiding. We will only advocate in court.”

Muth Chantha, a close aide to Kem Sokha, said the opposition leader would follow all court procedures and requirements for the upcoming hearing, but did not clarify if he would attend the hearing.

“We want to emphasize that his position is to be law abiding, so whatever the law dictates is what he will continue to respect, as a politician living in the Kingdom of Cambodia,” Muth Chantha said.

Ministry of Justice spokesperson Chin Malin said the defendant needed sufficient grounds to justify missing the hearing, and that absence at the trial on flimsy grounds was an offense in itself.

“As a matter of law, the accused person must appear in the trail, except when the accused person is absconding,” Chin Malin said. “If not, they are required to join the trial or they have to have a good reason.”

Kem Sokha was released on bail and placed in house arrest in 2018. The court relaxed his house arrest and bail conditions last month, shortly after a European Commission report on Cambodia was submitted to the government. The report could potentially lead to the suspension of the “Everything But Arms” trade scheme.

The investigating judge in the case ended the two-year long investigation in late November, sending the case to trial.