‘Miscarriage of justice’: Reactions to Kem Sokha conviction

United States, rights groups condemn sentence of 27 years’ house arrest against prominent Cambodian opposition leader.

A police truck in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court building. There are police officers sitting inside and behind.
Kem Sokha was arrested in 2017 and had been on trial since 2020 [Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP]

Cambodian opposition leader Kem Sokha has been sentenced to 27 years under house arrest after being found guilty of treason.

Kem Sokha, who headed the now-banned Cambodia National Rescue Party, was arrested in a midnight raid in 2017 and accused of conspiring with foreign powers to overthrow the government of longtime leader Hun Sen.

Kem Sokha denied the charges, while the United States and rights groups said the trial, which began three years after his arrest, was politically motivated.

Here are some reactions to the verdict:

Sam Rainsy, opposition leader in exile, ally of Kem Sokha in the CNRP

“It is terrible for him. But what I can say is that Hun Sen believes that he can face Western sanctions because he has the unconditional support from China.

“These accusations against Kem Sokha are groundless. Accusing him of wanting to topple the government with the US support is totally ridiculous.

“I would like to see all democratic countries condemn this condemnation of Kem Sokha and to warn Hun Sen that the next election in Cambodia will not be considered legitimate if the charge against Kem Sokha is not dropped, and if the opposition is not allowed … to take part in the elections.”

Australian embassy in Cambodia

“We are deeply disappointed by today’s decision to sentence Kem Sokha to 27 years of house arrest after being found guilty of treason.

“Australia has consistently called for a fair and transparent resolution in the case. Australian officials observed today’s hearing alongside colleagues from other diplomatic missions.

Australia will continue to dialogue with Cambodia to encourage political space for genuinely contested elections and to support human rights, democracy and the rule of law.”

US embassy in Cambodia

“The United States is deeply troubled by the conviction of respected Cambodian political leader Kem Sokha.

“The multi-year process to silence Kem Sokha, based on a fabricated conspiracy, is a miscarriage of justice.

“Denying Kem Sokha and other political figures their freedom of expression and association undermines Cambodia’s constitution, international commitments, and past progress to develop as a pluralist and inclusive society.

“We call on authorities to allow all Cambodians to enjoy their universal human rights of peaceful assembly and free expression and to participate in building a truly democratic system.”

US Ambassador W Patrick Murphy speaking to the media outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court. He is surrounded by a large group of reporters some with microphones
A number of embassies sent diplomatic staff to observe court proceedings and US ambassador W Patrick Murphy (centre) told reporters afterwards that the US was troubled by the verdict [Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP]

Mercy Barends, Chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, Indonesian MP

“The sentence of 27 years under house arrest for Kem Sokha is an act of sheer vindictiveness by the Hun Sen regime and has nothing whatsoever to do with justice. The charge of treason against him is utterly preposterous, and it can only be accepted by a court at the service of a government that has turned the country into a one-party dictatorship, where there is no room for separation of powers, one of the main pillars of any healthy democracy. In fact, all the judges presiding over this and other cases against opposition figures are members of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

“Kem Sokha is accused of conspiring with the US government to overthrow Hun Sen, a manifestly absurd accusation. Yet truth matters little to the Hun Sen regime. Like many other members of the Cambodian opposition, Kem Sokha has been put out of the political map ahead of the general election, scheduled for July this year, so Hun Sen and his CPP can win without hindrance.

“Nobody should be fooled into believing that, in the current conditions, a fair and free election is possible in Cambodia. With so many opposition figures in jail or in exile, and the continuing harassment of the opposition, the polls will only be a farce designed by Hun Sen and his party to legitimize their power.

“The international community should not fall for such a charade. ASEAN and the global community at large should condemn in the strongest terms the travesty of justice inflicted on Kem Sokha, as well as on dozens of other opposition figures, start putting real pressure on the Hun Sen regime, and make it clear that the results of an election held under the climate of fear currently prevailing in Cambodia are unacceptable.”

Ming Yu Hah, deputy regional director, Amnesty International

“The Cambodian justice system has once again shown its jaw-dropping lack of independence by convicting Kem Sokha on baseless, politically motivated charges. This verdict is an unmistakable warning to opposition groups months before national elections. The use of the courts to hound opponents of Prime Minister Hun Sen knows no limits.

“Sokha is one of many opposition figures who has been put through a physically and psychologically taxing ordeal which will continue after today’s unjust verdict. There can be no right to a fair trial when the courts have been co-opted by the heavy hand of the government.

“Sokha has spent years in detention, moved in and out of prison, and endured house arrest in a virtually ceaseless attempt to silence him. He has also been prevented from leaving the country due to unnecessary restrictions on his freedom of movement. The Cambodian government should drop these fabricated charges and immediately and unconditionally release Kem Sokha.”

Adilur Rahman Khan, Secretary General, International Federation for Human Rights

“The trial’s extraordinary length, flawed proceedings, and foregone conclusion show that Kem Sokha’s prosecution was nothing but a political charade aimed at keeping him out of politics. The Cambodian government must immediately stop the persecution of its political opponents through the use of subservient courts and repressive laws.”

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director, Human Rights Watch

“It was obvious from the start that the charges against Kem Sokha were nothing but a politically motivated ploy by Prime Minister Hun Sen to sideline Cambodia’s major opposition leader and eliminate the country’s democratic system.

“Sending Kem Sokha to prison isn’t just about destroying his political party, but about squashing any hope that there can be a genuine general election in July.”

Source: Al Jazeera