A Cambodian court on Wednesday opened the trial of Kem Sokha, an opposition party leader accused of treason during a widespread crackdown on government critics.
The case against him has drawn condemnation from rights groups and the international community, who have accused Hun Sen, the South East Asian nation’s longtime leader, of trying to silence political rivals.
Kem Sokha, the leader of the popular main Cambodia National Rescue Party, was arrested in 2017 and has since been held in jail and under house arrest. The CNRP was then dissolved by the country’s supreme court ahead of 2018 elections, which Hun Sen then won with a huge majority.
On Wednesday, diplomats packed the small municipal court room in the capital, Phnom Penh, but some journalists and human rights workers were denied entry, fuelling fears of an unfair trial.
Kem Sokha’s daughter Monovithya Kem has called the case against her father a “farce.”
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Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said it should be dismissed. “Kem Sokha will be the victim of a show trial on completely bogus treason charges,” he said.
“The reality is that Kem Sokha did nothing he should have been charged for and this entire pre-trial prison detention, house arrest and now trial has been a massive violation of his human rights.”
Judge Koy Sao opened proceedings with the charge that since 1993, Kem Sokha implemented a secret plan in collusion with foreigners, including Americans and Canadians, to overthrow the government and instigate regime change. Mr Sokha denied the accusation.
Defence lawyers have indicated that the court could take up to three months to deliver a verdict, meaning the case could still be in progress by the time the EU makes a decision next month on whether to cut Cambodia’s preferential trade status over its human rights record.
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