United Nations Special Rapporteurs have labelled the treason trial of opposition leader Kem Sokha as “tainted” and said the entire legal processes surrounding the case have been marred by irregularities.
Kem Sokha went to trial last week, more than two years after he was first arrested in September 2017. The first two days of the trial ended last Thursday and will resume on January 22, with the trial expected to take at least three months.
Rhona Smith, Special Rapporteur on human rights in Cambodia; David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression; and Diego Garcia-Sayan, Special Rapporteur on independence of judges and lawyers released the critical statement on Friday calling the charges politically motivated.
“We have strong grounds to believe that the treason charge against Mr. Sokha is politically motivated and forms part of a larger pattern of the misapplication of laws to target political opponents and critics of the Government,” the experts said in the statement.
The experts said the trial had been “tainted” by the “clear neglect” of international, human rights and domestic laws. Kem Sokha faced up to 30 years if he is found guilty of conspiring with a foreign power.
The court and government have also come in for severe criticism for preventing independent journalists and human rights NGOs from monitoring the proceedings, using the excuse that the courtroom was full of embassy representatives.
Reports from those inside court show that there were empty seats during the proceedings and that members of a pro-government youth group are also occupying many seats.
Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin said that the court would not be swayed by the statement released by the three experts and that judicial procedures would be followed.
“So, all these commentaries or criticisms from any party, including the group supporting former opposition party, would have no influence on the court decision, which is an independent institution,” he said.
The Sokha trial will continue this week, with the defense expected to play a one-hour section of a video of the opposition leader giving a speech in 2013 in Australia, a video the government says shows his guilt. He also expected to be questioned about his work following his departure from the Cambodian Center for Human Rights in 2007.