The UN rights envoy to Cambodia, Rhona Smith, has been denied access to the former opposition leader, Kem Sokha, during her visit to the country this week.
“My request to meet Mr. Kem Sokha was denied by the investigating judge,” Smith was quoted as saying by a spokesman for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The spokesman did not respond to additional questions about the rejection.
Smith began her latest fact-finding visit to Cambodia on Monday, where she planned to meet with government officials, civil society groups and members of the diplomatic community. She was due to focus on human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals.
Ly Sophanna, a Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman, said a judge had rejected Smith’s request as Sokha remained under house arrest on treason charges and “procedures and the investigation are ongoing.”
He did not give a reason why an ongoing court case should prevent Sokha meeting Smith.
Sokha was jailed on treason charges in September 2017 for allegedly conspiring to overthrow the government through a U.S.-backed “color revolution” before his party was dissolved on the same grounds in November.
He was released on bail due to poor health and following an international outcry, but will remain under house arrest.
A judicial review of the case forbids Sokha from meeting “former CNRP leaders and individuals who may be involved in the case,” and “foreigners, especially foreigners who may be involved in the case.”
Government officials continue to defend his house arrest.
Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator with rights group Licadho, said he disagreed with the decision to block Smith from meeting with Sokha.
“We are a civil society. We are still worried because there is continuing criticism from the international community. They could say that it is not transparent,” he said.