Cambodia begins treason trial against opposition leader despite global outcry

Cambodia begins treason trial of opposition leader as criticism mounts

Cambodia begins treason trial of opposition leader as criticism mounts

The Municipal Court in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, opened the trial againstformer opposition leader Kem Sokha on Wednesday.

Kem Sokha stands accused of conspiring with foreign powers to carry out hostile acts against the country.

"We lawyers and the court prosecutor have a pile of evidence to submit to the trial chamber for them to decide on Sokha's guilt and to what extent he is legally responsible", Tech said.

The video cited as evidence by the court was recorded in 2013 and shows Kem Sokha discussing a strategy to win power at the ballot box with the help of U.S. experts-though the U.S. Embassy had rejected any suggestion that Washington was interfering in Cambodian politics at the time of his arrest in 2017.

He said the trial would continue for as long as both sides needed to clarify the facts.

"He said he set up CCHR and got funding from USAID", she said.

Sokha's daughter Kem Monovithya decried the proceedings.

The case against Sokha, as well as the dissolving of the CNRP, was widely criticized in and outside Cambodia. If convicted, Sokha faces up to 30 years in jail.

The government's lawyer, Ky Tech, said other than the U.S., others allegedly involved in the case included Indonesia, Serbia, Australia, Canada, the European Union, Taiwan and India. Ky Tech did not specify whether the court plans to summon representatives of those countries to appear at the trial. Just over two months ago the house arrest was lifted, likely as a result of worldwide pressure on the Cambodian government. He maintains his innocence and his lawyers have said that prosecutors lack evidence to convict.

Mr Sokha was released on bail soon after the 2018 election but kept under house arrest until November. About two months after his arrest, the Supreme Court of Cambodia dissolved the CNRP and banned 118 of the party's official from political activities.

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"I did NOT bring in foreign states or foreign agents to conduct hostility or invasion against Cambodia", said the statement on Facebook. "At other courts people can watch the developments on a big screen".

Rights group have called the trial politically motivated and a violation of human rights. "I want to see what evidence they show".

Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha greets media at his home in Phnom Penh on Nov 13, 2019.

CNRP acting president Sam Rainsy also took to Facebook on Wednesday to call the trial a farce and accuse the court of acting as "Hun Sen's puppet".

"They first made a decision to agree with our proposal to use the coding with [Khmer] letters in both trial record and verdict", said government lawyer Ky Tech. In the speech, he talked about receiving support from the United States to create change in the country from a grassroots level.

The first day of Kem Sokha's trial, which resumes Thursday, came as the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) issued a statement calling on Cambodian authorities to "immediately and unconditionally" drop the charges against him and restore his rights to movement and political participation.

Pheng Heng said he and his legal team requested to use the full version of the speech - around which the charges against Kem Sokha centre - instead of an abbreviated, two-minute version the courts had so far shown. Sokha spent a year in prison and another under house arrest.

While preferential access to Western markets is essential for some sectors, the kingdom's economy has been pumped up on Chinese investment and soft loans - delivered without questions over rights and democracy.

"We hope that he will be acquitted if the court has any interest at all in starting to demonstrate its independence", his daughter said.

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