Cam­bo­dian court again re­jects bail for op­po­si­tion leader

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - Asean Focus -

AN ap­peals court in Cam­bo­dia on Thurs­day de­nied a sec­ond re­quest for the re­lease on bail of op­po­si­tion leader Kem Sokha, who has been charged with trea­son.

The court ap­pear­ance in Phnom Penh by Kem Sokha, head of the Cam­bo­dia Na­tional Res­cue Party, was his first since his ar­rest last Septem­ber. The hear­ing was held be­hind closed doors and jour­nal­ists and other on­look­ers were kept away.

His pros­e­cu­tion by the govern­ment of Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen is widely seen as part of a con­certed ef­fort to crip­ple the op­po­si­tion ahead of a gen­eral elec­tion this year.

Kem Sokha’s lawyer, Choung Choungy, said the court cited con­cerns for his client’s se­cu­rity in deny­ing bail.

The govern­ment has ex­pressed fears of po­lit­i­cal protests by Kem Sokha’s sup­port­ers. They have sug­gested, with no ev­i­dence, that vi­o­lence might re­sult.

Hun­dreds of riot po­lice were de­ployed around the court, with sev­eral fire trucks and po­lice trucks parked nearby.

The past sev­eral years have seen the op­po­si­tion party face an on­slaught of le­gal chal­lenges from Hun Sen’s govern­ment with the sup­port of the courts, which are gen­er­ally seen as favour­ing his rul­ing Cam­bo­dian Peo­ple’s Party. Court rul­ings forced for­mer op­po­si­tion leader Sam Rainsy to avoid prison by staying in ex­ile and pres­sured him into re­sign­ing from his party.

The at­tacks on the op­po­si­tion cul­mi­nated in Novem­ber, when the Supreme Court or­dered the Cam­bo­dia Na­tional Res­cue Party to be dis­solved on the grounds that it was plot­ting to over­throw the govern­ment.

Kem Sokha was charged with trea­son for al­legedly con­spir­ing with the United States to top­ple the govern­ment, and could face up to 30 years in prison if con­victed. He was ar­rested on the ba­sis of videos from sev­eral years ago show­ing him at a sem­i­nar where he spoke about re­ceiv­ing ad­vice from US pro-democ­racy groups. The op­po­si­tion party has de­nied the trea­son al­le­ga­tion, say­ing the charge is strictly po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

Kem Sokha had been ex­pected to lead his Cam­bo­dia Na­tional Res­cue Party in July’s elec­tion in a strong chal­lenge against the rul­ing party of Hun Sen, who has held power for three decades.

His Septem­ber 3 ar­rest in the mid­dle of the night came amid a crack­down on the me­dia.

Photo: EPA

Cam­bo­dian op­po­si­tion leader Kem Sokha, left, is ar­rested at his home in Phnom Penh, Cam­bo­dia, in Septem­ber 2017.

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