Cambodia’s Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to grant bail to opposition leader Kem Sokha, meaning that the opposition leader, who has been jailed since September 2017 on accusations of treason, will remain in prison in Tbong Khmum province.
A bail hearing on Wednesday was attended by Sokha’s four lawyers, Meng Sopheary, Chan Chan, Pheng Heng and Phan Chansak, and presided over by Judge Kong Srim.
Sokha was not present at the hearing, which lasted for nearly one hour.
The four defense lawyers asked the court to release Sokha because his health issues, including high blood pressure and rheumatoid arthritis, were getting worse and he required surgery. They added that the detention of their client for almost one year without trial was an unreasonable violation of his rights.
Sokha’s legal team guaranteed that he would attend all court proceedings and obey any court summons issued if released.
Prosecutor Ouk Kimsith urged the court not to grant bail, saying that the opposition leader was in prison for his own safety as well as the sake of national security.
After nearly two hours of the trial hearing, Judge Srim announced that the request for bail would be rejected.
Kem Sokha was arrested at his house in the middle of the night on September 4 last year for alleged “treason” and sent to Trapaing Phlong prison near the Vietnamese border. Two months later, the Cambodia National Rescue Party was dissolved by the Supreme Court based on the a complaint from the Interior Ministry that they were colluding with foreigners to topple Hun Sen’s government.
Sokha has now been in detention for more than 11 months, during which time he has been held largely in solitary confinement, with no visitors allowed except his family and lawyers.
Pheng Heng, one of Sokha’s lawyers, told reporters outside the Supreme Court after the hearing that the legal team was disappointed in the decision and would discuss with their client what to do next.
"What the lawyers have raised is enough [evidence for release], but if the court does not decide to release [him], we are disappointed in this morning's outcome,” he said.
On Wednesday, the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia released a statement welcoming the recent release of several political prisoners but called for Sokha to be freed as well.
That statement said, “We hope that others detained for exercising their human rights will also be released, including former opposition leader Kem Sokha whose detention was deemed arbitrary by the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention in its Opinion No. 9/2018, published on June 5.”
The United Nations and human rights groups have also called for Sokha’s immediate release, calling his imprisonment “inhumane” and “shameful.”