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Spotlight turns to Sokha trial after royal pardons

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Kem Sokha addresses supporters in Phnom Penh in 2013. Attention has turned to his trial on treason charges after a series of pardons for opposition activists. Pha Lina

Spotlight turns to Sokha trial after royal pardons

Amid a spate of releases and pardons for activists, many have speculated as to whether former Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) president Kem Sokha will be freed when his case resumes at the end of this month.

Being held in pre-trial detention in Tbong Khmum province near the border with Vietnam, Sokha was arrested in a midnight raid last year on charges of treason that many have deemed politically motivated.

Since the results of the July 29 national elections were released earlier this month, an unprecedented spike in royal pardons has occurred, prompting some to draw a connection with Western criticisms of the poll.

Sokha’s lawyer, Meng Sopheary, told The Post on Tuesday that the investigating judge, Ky Rithy, will continue bail proceedings on August 30, which will mark nearly one year since the charges were first levelled against Sokha.

She said that, under Cambodian law, pre-trial detentions must be renewed every six months.

“Therefore, during the six-month detention, the judge must renew his decision to postpone the case, release the accused, or send it to trial,” Sopheary said.

On the Supreme Court’s decision last week to uphold the Phnom Penh Municipal Court decision not to release Sokha on bail, she said his current detention period had almost expired.

“I hope my client will be released at any time. The procedure is that my client has already been detained for one year, and the investigation should be sufficient to decide if he is to be released on bail or have his case sent to trial."

“I see that he is not guilty as there isn’t enough evidence to accuse him.”

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s investigating judge, Ky Rithy and spokesman Ly Sophanna could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

However, according to a letter issued by Rithy and sent to Sokha’s defence team, the court is set to convene on August 30 to decide on the question of extending Sokha’s detention.

Political analyst Em Sovannara speculated that Sokha will be freed during the next hearing.

He claimed the release is an obvious move after the pardoning of activists over the past two weeks.

“If Kem Sokha was to be released then the political situation would be much calmer. But if there is no response on the release, I think his detention is likely to challenge the international community."

“The opposition party is calling on the international community to put pressure [on the government], so politicians might confront each other,” he said.

Sokha was arrested on September 3 last year and charged with allegedly conspiring with foreigners attempting to topple the government.

The only evidence cited in the case is a 2013 video clip which shows him addressing followers in Australia, in which he claims he received advice in planning his political career from US leaders.

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