As Kem Sokha’s treason trial continued on Wednesday, the municipal court rejected a request from prosecutors to summon a Khmer linguistics expert to interpret Sokha’s use of the word “they” in a 2013 video footage being used as evidence to show he colluded with the US to plan a coup.
The former president of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has been charged with “conspiracy with a foreign power” and faces up to 30 years in prison if found guilty.
During a hearing on Wednesday, Judge Koy Sao rejected a request to bring in a Khmer linguistics expert to interpret Sokha’s use of the word “they” in a 2013 video clip from Australia when he was meeting with Cambodian supporters.
“At the end, they decided that for Cambodia to have a change, they told me to withdraw myself from politics for a while. Then I left my political party in 2002 to form an NGO, the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights.
“Why did they tell me to form that? They said to change a dictator, we cannot change the top, or clash at the top, but we must push from the bottom, a grassroots change,” Sokha said in Khmer in the video.
After the video played in the courtroom, Judge Koy Sao denied the request.
“There is no need to call an expert for this matter. The chamber has the right to decide on this. So, the request from the prosecutors is rejected,” he said.
As the hearing continued, it changed focus, turning to the period of 2007, when Sokha formed the Human Rights Party, to 2012, when it merged with the Sam Rainsy Party to become the CNRP.
Prosecutor Vong Bun Visoth asked Sokha why he formed the Human Rights Party.
Sokha said he formed the party to join the 2008 election, in which his party won three parliament seats. He noted his party did not attempt to lead a revolution or topple the government.
He was then grilled on the sources of funding for the party, and he said it received funding from Cambodian people within and outside the Kingdom.
He was also questioned on a meeting he held with US officials at their embassy in 2012.
In an interview after the meeting, which was also played in court, Sokha said he requested the US to strengthen democracy in Cambodia by injecting more funding through the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute.
“Don’t you think that going to the US embassy and making that request is tantamount to conspiring with a foreign power?” prosecutor Cheng Peng Hab asked.
Sokha disagreed. He said he made the same requests while in meetings at the French embassy and others.
The hearing also touched on the training provided by the National Democratic Institute and International Republican Institute, which Sokha defended by pointing out that the training by the two US institutions were attended by many parties, including the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
The trial will resume on Thursday.