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Kem Sokha Trial Date Set For January; Appeal Court Denies Challenge to Trial Moving Forward

Kem Sokha, leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, welcomes European Union Ambassador in Cambodia, at his house in Phnom Penh, on Nov. 13, 2019. (Tum Malis/VOA Khmer)

Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha’s treason case will head to trial on January 15, 2020, according to Phnom Penh Municipal Court document. The announcement came a week after the court claimed there was adequate evidence to proceed with the charges.

Shortly before the trial announcement on Monday, Kem Sokha’s motion in the Appeal Court, challenging the lower court’s decision last week to proceed with the trial, was turned down.

The trial comes nearly two and half years after Kem Sokha was arrested in a midnight raid in Phnom Penh, on the charge of conspiring with foreign powers. Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson Y Rin would only confirm that the trial will be held on January 15.

Chan Chen, one of Kem Sokha’s lawyers, said the case was based on political considerations and should be addressed through a political dialogue. But if the court wanted to proceed with the trial, he said, the defense team had no option but to follow judicial procedures.

“We have no choice but to follow the judicial procedure, in order to defend the integrity and find justice for our client, even though the general public knows in advance what the result will be,” Chan Chen said.

“We still believe in a political resolution to protect the national interest," he added.

The investigating judge in the case released an initial closing order on November 15, days after a preliminary European Union report on potential suspension of the “Everything But Arms” trade scheme was sent to the government. Last week, the judge formally closed the investigation and sent the case to trial.

International observers and domestic rights groups have called the charges politically motivated, with the EU routinely pushing for the release of Kem Sokha and reinstatement of the Cambodia National Rescue Party.

Earlier in the day, Kem Sokha’s legal team on Monday challenged the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s decision to end the investigation and send the case to trial in the Appeal Court. However, the court rejected the motion, allowing the case to proceed to trial.

VOA could not contact Touch Tharith, spokesperson for the Appeal Court, on Monday.

Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager at rights group Licadho, said the case was linked to outcome of the EU’s decision on the EBA trade scheme, which could have serious repercussions for the country’s workers.

“If the trial proceeds properly and the [EU] think it’s acceptable, then it is okay,” Sam Ath said. “However, if it’s seen as unjust for Kem Sokha, there will be more criticism and perhaps conditions [linked to EBA].”