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Court: Postponement of Sokha’s trial not biased

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Kem Sokha leaves Phnom Penh Municipal Court after attending a hearing in January. Hong Menea

Court: Postponement of Sokha’s trial not biased

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Presiding Judge Koy Sao on May 4 postponed the hearing of former opposition leader Kem Sokha, who stands accused of conspiring with a foreign power to topple the government.

The request for a one-week delay was made by government lawyer Cheng Penghap, who cited his tight schedule as the reason.

“[Regarding] the criminal case No 5642-I dated September 3, 2017, I, as the lawyer representing the civil party, cannot participate because of a necessary business commitment that cannot be missed.

“Therefore, in order not to harm the interests of our client, we ask the judge to adjourn the hearing in the above case to a later date,” Penghap said in the request.

On April 3, Muth Chantha – former chief of Sokha’s cabinet while he was president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and now his personal assistant – took to social media saying the decision to postpone the hearing was biased and outrageous, especially as the defence was only informed on the evening of May 3.

Chantha said defence lawyers had asked the court if there had been any changes to the May 4 hearing date, and Judge Koy Sao confirmed no change had been made. But, to his dismay, the judge later decided to adjourn the hearing even though the request was made at late notice.

“What is noteworthy about this move is that at the end of the April 27 hearing, civil party lawyer Chantola requested a postponement. The council told him that a written request would need to be submitted before it could be approved. The civil party lawyers did not bother to submit such a request until May 3, the day before the hearing,” he said.

Chantha asserted that this was the saddest and most outrageous decision, and showed the bias which affected Sokha’s right to justice and a timely trial.

According to Chantha, the case has been delayed for nearly five years, with the trial adjourned for nearly two. Even after hearings resumed on January 19, they were adjourned or postponed several times, further prolonging the lengthy trial.

This is the second time that the civil party lawyers have requested an adjournment, and the court has agreed to both requests.

Plang Sophal, spokesman of the Prosecutor’s Office, declined to comment, referring The Post to court spokesman Y Rin.

Rin denied that the decision was biased, saying the court merely granted the request of one lawyer who had a necessary task to complete. He explained briefly that the court needed to make the decision before the hearing started.

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