Phnom Penh — All parties in the Kem Sokha trial spent a majority of the afternoon session on Wednesday squabbling over minor procedural issues and taking offense at comments made in court, with the presiding judge even calling a defense lawyer “arrogant.”
As the afternoon session resumed, there was little discussion about the subject at hand - Kem Sokha’s time as the head of the Human Rights Party. The defense, prosecution and government lawyers went around in circles misrepresenting each other’s comments and quibbling over minor details in the case.
At one point, Ang Oudom, a new lawyer on Kem Sokha’s legal team, was called “arrogant” by presiding judge Kuy Sao and asked to “go back and learn” the criminal code. Ang Oudom had asked the presiding judge to explain the procedural roles of all parties and other practices pertaining to a trial, eliciting quick reactions from the presiding judge.
In a back-and-forth with defense lawyer Meng Sopheary, government lawyer Ky Tech said the defense got angry when their procedural mistakes were pointed out.
“They get angry when we point it out,” he said. “The judge should have strict implementation of the internal policy of the court.”
Ky Tech and Ly Chanthola also took offence to the defense’s suggestion that the prosecution and government lawyers were working in cahoots against Kem Sokha.
“Can you show me the proof of this?” he asked the defense.
The little time the court spent on Kem Sokha’s activities, as the head of the Human Rights Party, also did not reveal much evidence or information about how it pertained to the charge of treason.
Prosecutor Vong Bun Visoth played an audio clip, seemingly from a press conference Kem Sokha gave after a 2012 meeting with Daniel Baer, the U.S. State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor, prior to the 2012 commune elections.
The prosecution questioned Sokha about asking the U.S. for election-linked assistance in the audio clip. Kem Sokha clarified that he had asked Daniel Baer to support NGOs that were working on the election and that it was absurd to ask for foreign funding for his political party because it was illegal.
He also rejected the prosecution’s questions about a clandestine plan to get funding from the U.S. for his political party.
“If I was to discuss secret information with [Dan Baer], I would not have spoken about the meeting in the press conference,” he said.
Government lawyers questioned Kem Sokha’s decision to leave politics in 2002, start the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, and then re-enter politics by starting the Human Rights Party in 2007.
At one point, Ly Chanthola alleged that this sequence of career moves was linked to political events in Serbia that Kem Sokha was aware of, not providing additional details for this claim.
“You keep putting words in my mouth,” Kem Sokha responded.
Government lawyer also made references to opposition leader Sam Rainsy allegedly saying in 2011 that Cambodia should adopt the Tunisia model, a seeming reference to the Arab Spring. A reference was also made to former U.S. lawmaker Ed Royce and a meeting he had with Kem Sokha in 2013.
The government, while providing no evidence to back their claims, seemed to make these references to suggest in court that Kem Sokha’s Human Rights Party was being supported by the U.S.
This has been the government’s narrative through the trial so far - that the opposition leader has been following the superpower’s advice and instructions from 1993.
In response, the defense played two videos in court – one from the Human Rights Party’s first party congress in 2008 and the second from another party congress in 2012, shortly before the party merged with the Sam Rainsy Party to form the Cambodia National Rescue Party.
In both videos, Kem Sokha is seen talking about participation in the democratic process and how he wanted to use non-violent means, such as elections, to change Cambodia’s leadership.
The defense also tried to present evidence in court, such as photographs from events hosted by the National Democratic Institute, to show that the U.S.-funded group was working with all political parties and not just the Human Rights Party.
But the defense and prosecution asked that this line of questioning be delayed because they had not received color copies of the photographs nor had the defense labelled the images appropriately.
The lawyers then proceeded to argue about this point as well. Around 4:30 pm, presiding judge Kuy Sao adjourned the hearing, which will resume Thursday morning.