Wit­ness in Sokha case fails to ap­pear at court

The Phnom Penh Post - - NATIONAL - Niem Ch­heng

SIA Phearum, the for­mer ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Hu­man Rights Task Force, re­fused to ap­pear as a wit­ness at Phnom Penh Mu­nic­i­pal Court on Tues­day for ex-Cam­bo­dia Na­tional Res­cue Party (CNRP) Pres­i­dent Kem Sokha’s case, on claims he does not trust the court sys­tem.

Phearum was sum­monsed by In­ves­ti­gat­ing Judge Ky Rithy, to be ques­tioned as a wit­ness. How­ever, he failed to ap­pear and in­stead crit­i­cised the ju­di­cial sys­tem in the King­dom for lack­ing in­de­pen­dence and fol­low­ing or­ders from the govern­ment.

“I am not in­ter­ested in the sum­mons be­cause I think the court is just a pup­pet which fol­lows the or­ders of politi­cians. There is no in­de­pen­dence as an in­sti­tu­tion,” he said via Face­book Mes­sen­ger from the US, where he now lives.

Asked why he was sum­monsed in Sokha’s case when he was just an NGO di­rec­tor, Phearum avoided the ques­tion and in­stead said: “An NGO does its work with in­de­pen­dence and does not sup­port any po­lit­i­cal party.”

Phearum is one of eight wit- nesses Rithy sum­monsed. In Fe­bru­ary, Ch­him Phalvorun, Cam­bo­dia Peo­ple’s Party (CPP) spokesman and for­mer staffer at the Cam­bo­dian Cen­tre for Hu­man Rights, ap­peared for ques­tion­ing.

Phnom Penh Mu­nic­i­pal Court spokesman Ly So­phana said last week that three wit­nesses had ap­peared for ques­tion­ing, with two ap­pear­ing last Fri­day, al­though he did not name them.

Rithy and So­phana could not be reached for com­ment on Tues­day.

Sokha was ar­rested last Septem­ber at his home in Phnom Penh and charged with “trea­son” af­ter a video emerged of a speech he gave in Aus­tralia in 2013, where he talked about the role of demo­cratic grass­roots move­ments in over­throw­ing regimes at the bal­lot box, and the po­lit­i­cal ad­vice he re­ceived from the US.

If he is found guilty, he faces up to 30 years in jail.

Phearum blamed Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen for Sokha’s ar­rest and claimed the lat­ter feared Sokha’s and ex-CNRP Pres­i­dent Sam Rainsy’s pop­u­lar­ity, and wanted to clear the way of any chal­lengers.

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said Phearum did not ap­pear be­cause he is guilty, and that he con­sid­ered the com­par­ing of pop­u­lar­ity to­tally ab­surd.

“Hun Sen en­tered the po­lit­i­cal arena at a young age to pro­mote peace, but con­vict Rainsy en­tered pol­i­tics not for the na­tion, but to seek re­venge on the monar­chy for call­ing his fa­ther a traitor since 1959. So the two per­son­al­i­ties have dif­fer­ent lev­els of po­lit­i­cal wis­dom,” he said.

Sam Sary, Rainsy’s fa­ther, was a for­mer top govern­ment of­fi­cial and am­bas­sador to Eng­land in the 1950s who fell out of favour with then-Head of State Prince Norodom Si­hanouk and fled Cam­bo­dia when his name was linked to an al­leged coup plot.

SUP­PLIED

Sia Phearum speaks dur­ing a meet­ing in Phnom Penh in 2015.

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