Cambodia’s top court said on Friday it would open hearings in the alleged treason case against opposition leader Kem Sokha on Oct. 31, as the country’s senate passed a controversial bill that would dissolve his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) and give the seats to parties allied with the ruling party.
Kem Sokha was arrested on Sept. 3 and charged with “treason” for collaborating with the U.S. to overthrow the CPP, in a move critics say shows Prime Minister Hun Sen is intensifying his attacks on political opponents ahead of next year’s general election.
The CNRP has lodged a complaint to the Supreme Court calling for Kem Sokha be moved from Trapaing Plong prison in remote Thboung Khmum province to a prison in the capital Phnom Penh.
Meng Sopheary, Kem Sokha’s lawyer, told RFA’s Khmer Service said she will work hard to get Kem Sokha out of jail.
“This is a politically motivated case, so politicians should deal with each other to end this matter. We will also follow the court process through the justice procedure” Meng Sopheary added.
Earlier on Friday the Cambodian Senate passed four electoral law amendments clearing the way to dissolve the CNRP, in a move that has drawn widespread condemnation from within Cambodia and abroad. The senate will send the amendments, with any proposed changes, back to parliament’s Constitutional Council which, after further review, will forward them on to King Norodom Sihamoni for final approval.
“What will the king say about this if the government forces him to sign such a dirty, unjust and immoral law?” said Lao Mong Hay, an independent analyst.
He said Sihamoni should send the amendments back to the national assembly to review and that he urges the king not to approve them.
“I will not be quiet. I will ask the king to reject the amendments and do not sign the laws,” Lao Mong Hay added.
On Monday, the National Assembly approved the four amendments to the country’s electoral law, despite a boycott by the parliament’s 55 CNRP lawmakers, paving the way for their seats to be redistributed to smaller government-aligned parties in the event that the opposition party is dissolved.
The evidence presented against Kem Sokha so far is a video recorded in 2013 in which he discusses a strategy to win power with the help of U.S. experts, though the U.S. embassy has rejected any suggestion that Washington is interfering in Cambodian politics.
Since Kem Sokha’s arrest, some 20 CNRP lawmakers, along with deputy presidents Mu Sochua and Eng Chhay Eang and a number of party activists, have fled Cambodia fearing retaliation by the CPP following important electoral gains by the opposition in June’s commune ballot, which are seen as pointing to a strong showing in next year’s vote.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Paul Eckert.