Court hearing runs gamut for Kem Sokha

By: Meas Sokchea and Sean Teehan

After spending seven hours being grilled at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday on topics ranging from post-election violence to a November land rights protest, National Assembly First Deputy President Kem Sokha will not be making any further court appearances, his lawyers said.

Leaving the closed-door session yesterday, Sokha, deputy leader of the opposition party, told reporters that he had been questioned about a vast array of seemingly nonsequiturial issues but not charged or questioned in connection with any crime.

“I was asked to answer unreasonable questions,” Sokha said. “They questioned me about the definition of revolution; they questioned me about why [unionist] Vorn Pov picked me up at the airport when I returned from the United States.”

Meng Sopheary, Sokha’s attorney, added that other questions were asked related to past violence on Phnom Penh’s Naga Bridge, protests at Freedom Park and a November demonstration by Boeung Kak lake activists that resulted in seven people receiving one-year prison sentences. She also told deputy prosecutor Ly Sophana to not question her client any further, since Sokha is neither a suspect nor witness to a crime.

“I don’t know what the meaning of the prosecutor’s questions was, but his questions all involved cases from a long time ago,” Sopheary said.

“Just now, [Sophana] said that today, we have finished all questions and there would be no more questions.”

Sophana declined to comment on the court session.

Sokha’s appearance in court yesterday came after Prime Minister Hun Sen last month publicly called for the courts to take action against him for having allegedly confessed that he tried to overthrow the government following the disputed 2013 election.

The accusations came after Sokha delivered a speech to supporters in Long Beach, California, in which he apologised for his Cambodia National Rescue Party’s failure to achieve a leadership change in the country with its mass post-poll street demonstrations.

Although Sokha and CNRP leader Sam Rainsy led those demonstrations in tandem, the premier has directed his tirades solely at Sokha.

Political and legal observers yesterday questioned the court’s decision to question Sokha, saying that the judiciary is supposed to be independent of the prime minister’s whims.

“It seems like the separation of power is in the constitution itself, but is not in the real-life administration,” Chea Vannath, an independent political analyst, said. “It looks like there is interference [in the court].”

Long-time political analyst and recent founder of a new grassroots political movement Kem Ley agreed, saying that Hun Sen’s government has made many similar court manipulation plays in the past.

He added that the debate over the formation of a new National Election Committee could be seen as linked to Hun Sen’s timing in heaping pressure on prosecutors to bring in Sokha.

“Based on my observation many times, they always used to pressure the court during [debates on issues such as] the National Election Committee [or] reform of the Election Law,” Ley said. “This is [the] game of politics, the [Cambodian People’s Party] always uses this way [to] break down the opposition party.”

From a legal point of view, it doesn’t appear that the court had a leg to stand on in summonsing Sokha into court, said Ny Chakrya, head of human rights and legal aid for rights group Adhoc.

“I think if it’s based on the procedure of court in Cambodia, it’s wrong,” he said. Kem Sokha has parliamentary immunity, and based on the law, the court isn’t allowed to invite [a] parliament member with immunity.