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Gov’t Lawyers Question Kem Sokha’s Decision to Join “Violent Convict Sam Rainsy”

Kem Sokha (left) and Sam Rainy, leaders of the dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
Kem Sokha (left) and Sam Rainy, leaders of the dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).

Government lawyers spent the afternoon of Wednesday’s hearing trying to impeach Kem Sokha’s character by linking him to multiple Sam Rainsy speeches, where the exiled opposition leader called for an overthrow of the government.

The court is currently discussing Kem Sokha’s political career after he decided to merge the Human Rights Party with the Sam Rainsy Party to establish the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in July 2012.

Sann Chouy and Cheng Penghap, government lawyers, questioned Kem Sokha’s decision to join Sam Rainsy and form the CNRP. They pointed to a 2011 speech in Lowell, Massachusetts, where Sam Rainsy called for the armed forces to not attack citizens, to instead turn their guns on the government and for an overthrow of the dictatorial regime.

Sann Chouy questioned Kem Sokha’s repeated assertions that he believed in non-violent and democratic means, when he had chosen to combine forces with Sam Rainsy in 2012.

“When you shake hands with Sam Rainsy to form the CNRP, you know that they use violence,” Sann Chouy said. “Why do you let convict Sam Rainsy who is violent to lead you?”

The government lawyers played another video in court where Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha are at a public dialogue in 2013. However, the audio was almost inaudible, with Cheng Penghap claiming that Sam Rainsy was again talking about citizens standing up against the government, in the presence of Kem Sokha.

The government lawyers then attempted to make the case that all of Kem Sokha’s prior speeches about his political philosophy, which were based on non-violence, democratic values and rejection of revolutions, were questionable because he decided to associate with Sam Rainsy, who they alleged was a violent person looking to topple the government.

But, Kem Sokha, in a few heated exchanges, pushed back at the allegations leveled against him by Sann Chouy and Cheng Penghap.

He said all his activities with Sam Rainsy were based on the CNRP’s bylaws that were grounded in non-violence and democratic values, and had been accepted by the Ministry of Interior.

“I, Kem Sokha, do not support violence, overthrowing of governments or revolutions in general,” the opposition leader said in court.

He also differentiated words used by him and Sam Rainsy, adding that he always called for “change” through democratic means, using the Khmer word “pdou.” In the videos, Sam Rainsy is heard using the word “pduol” which means to topple.

The defense pointed out that their client could not be linked or his intentions questioned based on the exiled leader’s speech, given that Sam Rainsy was not in court to clarify the meaning of his speech.

“We are not the lawyers for Sam Rainsy,” said defense lawyer Pheng Heng.

In response to the government lawyers’ attacks on Kem Sokha’s character, the defense asked two questions to link Prime Minister Hun Sen directly to Sam Rainsy.

Pheng Heng asked Kem Sokha if Hun Sen had requested the King to give Sam Rainsy a royal pardon in 2013, prior to the general election, and if Hun Sen had negotiated with Sam Rainsy in 2014 during the so-called “culture of dialogue.”

Kem Sokha answered in the affirmative, laying out the defense’s argument that if Sam Rainsy was a “violent” person, why had the prime minister engaged with him.

The opposition leader also took umbrage to questions about his intentions, after joining forces with Sam Rainsy, and said he would join with anyone as long as they shared the same vision.

“Why would Funcinpec join the Cambodian People’s Party?” he queried. “Because they agreed with each other’s policies.”

Kem Sokha was referring to the 1993 post-election tie up between Funcinpec and the CPP, adding that before the Paris Peace Agreement the two groups had been in different factions during the civil war.

In a short exchange earlier in the hearing, government lawyer Ly Chantola referenced a Phnom Penh Post article from 2010 which said that former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had urged the “head of the Human Rights Party” to merge with the Sam Rainsy Party.

Kem Sokha did not respond to this line of questioning, claiming he did not remember the article or having a meeting with Hillary Clinton in November 2010. Ly Chantola immediately dropped this line of questioning, later handing reporters in the gallery a printout of the story.

Earlier in the session, the council of judges turned down a defense request to increase the number of hearings to at least three every week, citing the lack of trial rooms to accommodate Kem Sokha’s case. Presiding judge Kuy Sao said there were “thousands” of other cases that needed to use the courtroom.