Rights groups have called on Cambodian authorities to drop “bogus” treason charges against opposition leader Kem Sokha, who has been accused of conspiring to overthrow the regime of Hun Sen.
“Kem Sokha will be the victim of a staged trial on completely bogus treason charges,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“The government should cut their losses by dropping the charges against him, but clearly Prime Minister Hun Sen decided instead to extract the proverbial pound of flesh from Kem Sokha for daring to challenge him,” Radio Free Asia (RFA) cites Robertson as saying.
Sokha, who headed up the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was arrested in September 2017 on treason charges as part of an alleged foreign plot to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Sen, who has been in power for 35 years.
The CNRP was subsequently banned, in what The ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights chairperson Charles Santiago called “the final nail in the coffin for Cambodian democracy.”
Sokha, 66, faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.
Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s East Asia regional director, said Cambodian authorities have yet to produce “a shred of credible evidence” to support the treason charge.
“The non-existent crime was politically manufactured to further the suppression of the opposition party. The Phnom Penh Court must acquit Kem Sokha to bring an end to this mockery of justice,” he said.
Bequelin has further criticized Cambodian authorities for limiting access to the courtroom as the trial got underway on Jan. 15.
“The gravity of these absurd accusations demands that the authorities uphold the highest standards of fairness and transparency, which requires holding a public hearing,” RFA cites him as saying.
“It is essential that human rights monitors and journalists are given unhindered access to the trial.”
In HRW’s 30th annual World Report 2020, which tracks human rights practices in nearly 100 countries, the group said the Cambodian government had ramped up its crackdown on the political opposition.
“At one point the government held nearly 90 political prisoners throughout the country, mostly people linked to the court-dissolved CNRP. From January until mid-2019, the authorities ordered over 150 court and police summonses against CNRP members and supporters,” HRW said.
Robertson said Hun’s Sen crackdown on the opposition, media and rights groups “has effectively turned the country’s democracy into a one-party state.”
The Sokha trial gets underway as the European Union is set next month to determine whether to maintain Cambodia’s tariff-free access to its markets under the “Everything But Arms” scheme for developing nations.
The European Union has called for Sokha’s release.