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Kem Sokha Lawyers Walk Out Of Trial, Claim Irregularities With Evidence

Kem Sokha leaves the court after his second-day trial over the charge of “Conspiring With Foreign State” ended, in Phnom Penh, January 16th, 2020. (Khan Sokummono/VOA Khmer)
Kem Sokha leaves the court after his second-day trial over the charge of “Conspiring With Foreign State” ended, in Phnom Penh, January 16th, 2020. (Khan Sokummono/VOA Khmer)

In a dramatic turn of events, Kem Sokha’s defense lawyers walked out of court this morning, alleging irregularities with a piece of evidence and for not being allowed to address their grievances in court.

The piece of evidence in question is purportedly a joint statement between Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha during the formation of the Cambodia National Rescue Party. The court is currently discussing Kem Sokha’s career during the formation of the now-dissolved party.

For the last two days, the defense alleged that the evidence reference code on the copy of the joint statement given to them did not match with the reference code on the prosecutor’s copy of the evidence nor with the judge’s copy.

The council of judges have questioned the defense’s motives for discussing this piece of evidence, alleging they were delaying the trial and asked why did this piece of evidence matter so much to them.

The defense in return said that it only wanted to follow the procedures and ensure that all aspects of the trial – including the evidence presented – was following the legal procedures.

After an hour of discussion about the controversial piece of evidence, the defense attempted to raise the issue again – this time adding that they had not been given all the evidence in the case file – the presiding judge curtly asked defense lawyer Ang Odom to sit down and not speak in court.

“We are asking you to sit down. If you don’t know the procedures then you can go to the ECCC,” judge Kuy Sao said, referring to Ang Odom’s previous work at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

At this point, the defense lawyers conferred for a few seconds and began to pack up their belongings, informing the court that they were leaving because they were not allowed to speak in court.

“You asked us to speak today about the evidence,” said defense lawyer Meng Sopheary. “But you do not allow us to speak.”

The lawyers then walked out leaving Kem Sokha by himself in court.

Prior to the walkout, the presiding judge had asked the court clerk for the original copy of evidence with the investigating judge to be brought to the trial room so that all parties could examine it and to prove to the defense that all the evidence was accurate.

At which point, the prosecution said they did not want to waste their time verifying documents for the defense and asked to leave the court. The judge granted their request and the prosecution left the court. But, minutes later they returned after the defense had walked out.

Then began an unusual display of the evidence, which was brought in a large padlocked metal box, in court that lasted nearly an hour. All the evidence from the investigating judge’s case file was laid out on the defense’s table, despite none of the defense lawyers present in court.

The court clerks sifted through the documents to find the controversial evidence, which was in a package of evidence marked “126.” A document, seemingly the joint statement, was then held up by the judge to show the gallery and all parties that it was in the case file, even asking Kem Sokha to look at the document.

The judge wanted the court technician to display the same document using the projector, but was informed that the laptop in court did not have a disc drive. A second computer had a disc drive but was unable to project the document.

Finally, a third laptop was procured, which could display the document in question. After scrolling through more than a hundred documents, the document was found, marked “126|1194.”

Presiding judge Kuy Sao ruled that all the evidence matched with the evidence included in the investigating judge’s case file.

But, Kem Sokha stood up in court and displayed the document the defense had, and said the reference code “126|1194” was missing from the document.

Kuy Sao said he had already deemed the evidence authentic and matched the investigating judge’s case file. He then asked Kem Sokha if he wanted to continue the trial or postpone the proceedings to decide with he wanted to change his lawyers.

“I need lawyers to be present in court,” said Kem Sokha. “Without lawyers, I would like to ask for a delay.”

The trial will resume on February 26, prior to which Kem Sokha will have to inform the court if he wants to change his lawyers and to request for all the evidentiary documents the defense claims has not been made available to them.