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Rights activist to testify in Sokha case

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Kem Sokha greets his supporters as he leaves the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on January 19. Hong Menea

Rights activist to testify in Sokha case

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on 28 September resumed its 58th hearing in the case of former opposition leader Kem Sokha, who has been charged with conspiring with foreign powers to overthrow the government.

The court has also summonsed a prominent rights activist to appear as witness at Sokha’s next hearing in early October.

Municipal court spokesman Plang Sophal told The Post after the hearing that Sokha, former president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), had been questioned about the so-called “Black Monday” campaign and whether former CNRP activists had studied colour revolution abroad.

Defence lawyer Pheng Heng told reporters that the hearing centred around Sokha’s alleged involvement in training by the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) for youth in Indonesia, training by the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in Phnom Penh as well as youth training in Taiwan.

“All of the questions were answered by Kem Sokha, who has never even heard of CANVAS or what events this organisation runs. In particular, the training of young people is the purview of the youths in question, as they were not sent to the training by the party. Sokha did not know about this.”

He said that during the hearing, the judge fielded many questions as to what Sokha knew about CANVAS’ strategy while he was in Australia. The former CNRP president denied any involvement, saying that all he had done was for the wellbeing of Cambodia and for development to move towards elections – not revolutionary activities as alleged.

Separately, the municipal court has summonsed Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, to appear as a witness on October 5. The summons was issued on September 14 and made public on September 28.

Sophal said the summons was issued in connection with Sokha, who is accused of conspiring with foreign powers from 1993 until September 3, 2017, a criminal offence. According to the summons, Sopheap must appear when ordered, and should provide any documents in his possession which relate to the case.

Sopheap said she had seen the summons.

“I have stated my stance to the summons even though I was abroad at the time. I responded on time. The challenge now is that I have received it while carrying out a mission overseas,” she wrote in a September 28 social media post.

She said she will express her views as a human rights defender, having previously maintained that Sokha and other members should not face charges for their political activism and for their party.

“I consider the continued indictment and prolongation of this case to be a violation of the political rights and freedoms that Cambodia recognises in the Constitution and of international human rights standards,” she said.

Political analyst Meas Ny said that summoning Sopheap as a witness was standard, but he wondered if this could be considered a threat to human rights defenders. He said summoning civil society officials to clarify Sokha’s case may provoke criticism from the international community.

“I understand that it is normal for people to be summoned to court, whether they like it or not. It could be intimidating, and I do not see how Sopheap is involved in this case,” said Ny.

Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin said the summoning of Sopheap as a witness was not a thing to be worried about.

“It’s not intimidating. It is the duty of every citizen to join the authorities when they need information in a legal case. This is one way private citizens can join the authorities in promoting the rule of law, democracy and the right to justice,” he added.

Sokha’s next hearing is scheduled for October 5.

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