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Prosecution, Government Allege Foreign Role In CNRP Formation, But Present No Evidence

FILE: Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha speaks to journalists at his house in Phnom Penh, Cambodia February 6, 2020. REUTERS

The treason trial entered its seventh week on Wednesday, after hearings were cancelled last week because the defense walked out of court on February 13 alleging irregularities with evidence.

As Kem Sokha’s trial resumed after a two-week recess, the prosecution and government lawyers hinted, and occasionally alleged, that the opposition leader used foreign assistance to form the Cambodia National Rescue Party, but provided no evidence to support the claim.

The treason trial entered its seventh week on Wednesday, after hearings were cancelled last week because the defense walked out of court on February 13 alleging irregularities with evidence. Defense lawyers returned to the trial on Wednesday, saying they hoped the hearing proceeded smoothly.

The court is currently discussing Kem Sokha’s career around the formation of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in 2012, with prosecutor Vong Bun Visoth repeatedly asking Kem Sokha if any outsiders facilitated negotiations between him and opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

“Who would facilitate if there was no agreement [to form CNRP]?” he said. “Was there any other [party] in the negotiations?”

“There is no foreigner who ordered the negotiations,” Kem Sokha replied. “It is based on the people’s request.”

Vong Bun Visoth then used another document sourced from the anonymous Facebook page “Kon Khmer,” which alleged that Jackson Cox, International Republican Institute’s (IRI) former Cambodia representative, had facilitated the negotiations.

Jackson Cox was previously mentioned in the trial, again by the prosecution, to allege that he had influence on Kem Sokha and the functioning of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, because the U.S.-funded IRI was a major donor of the rights group.

Kem Sokha said he refused to answer any questions based on documents found on “Kon Khmer”, asking the court to summon the author of the page to testify in the trial.

“This Kon Khmer information is not real,” Kem Sokha said.

The prosecution continued to question Kem Sokha about his meeting with Sam Rainsy in Manila, Philippines, to discuss the formation of the CNRP, such as the choice of logo, party name, location for the meeting, and who paid for the expenses.

Kem Sokha said the participants paid for the meeting themselves and that all decisions taken around the formation of the party were a group effort and in compliance with the Law on Political Parties.

Government lawyers then repeated most of the questions asked by the prosecution, saying they needed clearer answers, even though Kem Sokha refused to answer the questions again.

However, Ly Chantola, one of the four government lawyers, asked Kem Sokha if he had heard of “CALD”, seconds later clarifying that he was referring to the Council of Asian Liberals and Democrats.

Ly Chantola said that Sam Rainsy was a member of CALD and negotiations to form the CNRP had been held at the CALD office. The government lawyer said that Kem Sokha earlier said the negotiation were held in a rented location.

Ly Chantola queried Kem Sokha as to why they had to rent the CALD office when Sam Rainsy was a member of the group, to which Kem Sokha maintained that they paid for use of the office.

In this line of questioning, government lawyers were able to introduce and reference another international group in the trial without clearly explaining its link to Kem Sokha’s treason charge.

The government lawyer then proceeded to question Kem Sokha about a July 2012 joint statement issued with Sam Rainsy announcing the formation of the CNRP and the party’s official bylaws, asking why both spoke about overthrowing a dictatorship.

Defense lawyer Chan Chen objected asking Ly Chantola to exactly point out in the bylaws where it said the word “overthrow.”

“If the bylaw did not use the word overthrow of the dictatorship, then the government lawyer is mistaken,” Chan Chen said.

Immediately, co-government lawyer San Chouy asked the court for a lunch break, however the presiding judge asked Ly Chantola to clarify his question before the break.

Ly Chantola read out sections from both the bylaws and joint statement, but did not mention the work overthrow, glossing over his previous question suggesting the documents called for an overthrow of the dictatorship.

Earlier in the hearing, the defense again said it had not received all the evidence in the case file, marking the sixth week that the court was unable to resolve this issue.

Defense lawyer Ang Odom asked that around 72 pages in evidence dossier No.126, which was at the center of the defense walkout two weeks ago, be excluded from the trial for irregularities. He did not elaborate on the alleged irregularities.

Presiding judge Kuy Sao said the evidence was part of the investigating judge’s case file and could not be excluded, but that defense could question its evidentiary value in their closing statements.