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Procedural Arguments Stall Kem Sokha Trial, No Progress on Treason Charge

In this June 2, 2017, file photo, opposition party Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha greets his supporters at a rally in Phnom Penh.
In this June 2, 2017, file photo, opposition party Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) leader Kem Sokha greets his supporters at a rally in Phnom Penh.

The prosecution and defense spent all of Thursday morning debating whether the former could introduce new evidence during the trial, with Kem Sokha’s lawyer arguing prosecutors were restricted to evidence uncovered during the investigation period.

It has been seven weeks since Kem Sokha’s trial began on January 15. On Thursday, there was no cross examination, no arguments made for or against the treason charge leveled against the opposition leader and another hearing where Kem Sokha remained completely silent.

The prosecution on Wednesday submitted new evidence, which the council of judges took under consideration on Thursday morning. The prosecution said the evidence was needed to counter similar evidence introduced by the defense earlier in the trial.

“So, this evidence is valuable to give to the council of judges to consider and is in response to the one hour three minutes video from the defense,” said prosecutor

Plang Sophal referring the alleged “treason” video of Kem Sokha speaking in Australia in 2013.

The defense immediately objected to the new evidence and said the prosecution was restricted to only use the evidence in the case file handed over by the investigating judge.

They said Articles 312, 245 and 246 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, dealing with evidence admissibility and investigation period procedures, did not allow for the prosecution to introduce new evidence in the trial.

“The prosecutor has said [in the closing order] that there is enough evidence to find Kem Sokha guilty, so why do you need to submit more evidence,” said defense lawyer Meng Sopheary, referring the closing order issued by the prosecutor recommending the case be sent to trial

The defense then proceeded to make multiple suggestions for how the court should proceed should the contentious evidence be admitted.

Meng Sopheary directly asked the judges to end the trial immediately and deliver a verdict, providing little explanation for her recommendations. Whereas, co-defense lawyer Ang Odom asked for a re-investigation of the charges and to ensure this time that foreign parties involved in the case be questioned as part of the investigation.

Despite taking a break to deliberate, the council of judges did not rule on the admissibility of the evidence. Presiding judge Kuy Sao did respond to Ang Odom by saying the Vienna Convention prevented the court from summonsing foreigners to testify, seemingly referring to diplomats.

“It is illegal to invite them,” he said. “But the council of judges is not scared of any country who wants to come and speak [before the court].”

Curiously, Kuy Sao proceeded to ask the prosecution to present their evidence in court in order to evaluate if it could be admitted, even allowing them to play video clips.

However, the defense again objected saying that the evidence should not be viewed in court until the judges decide on its admissibility.

Kuy Sao then asked the prosecution to list out the evidence instead, with prosecutor Vong Bun Visoth revealing that the evidence included seven video clips, mostly of Kem Sokha speaking to supporters at Freedom Park after the 2013 elections and allegedly calling for the “toppling of the legal government.”

Despite another hour of arguments from all three parties, where the government lawyers supported the prosecution’s request to submit evidence, the bench was unable to provide a clear interpretation of Article 321, which specifically deals with introducing new evidence during the hearings.

After three hours of wrangling, the hearing was closed by presiding judge Kuy Sao, without any resolution to the basic questions of evidence admissibility and whether the prosecution was restricted to only use evidence in the case file.

Also, Kuy Sao adjourned the proceedings till March 11, skipping all of next week, without giving any reasons. The announcement comes a day after the defense requested that the court increase the number of hearings a week, which was summarily rejected by the bench.