The Odious Trial of Kem Sokha in Cambodia

Kem Sokha, Sam Rainsy and, Hun Sen

Exactly three years ago on 11 February 2017, I resigned as leader of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the opposition party which just a year after its establishment in 2012, won almost half of the popular vote in the elections of 2013. This was despite massive electoral fraud to the benefit of the ruling party of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Kakfa’s shadow hangs over every dictatorship. I had to give up the leadership of the CNRP to try to protect the future of the party that I had helped to create. In the days and weeks before my resignation, Hun Sen had pushed for the adoption of a series of laws which forbade anyone with a conviction from leading a political party, on pain of that party’s dissolution. The targeted convict could only be me, as I was the only party leader with multiple, politically motivated convictions collected during my long confrontation with Hun Sen. And the party targeted could only be the CNRP, the only opposition party represented in the national assembly with nearly half of the parliamentary seats, and the only one capable of frightening Hun Sen.

My resignation for a while threw Hun Sen off course in his attempt to eliminate the CNRP. The dictator quickly returned to the task by targeting Kem Sokha, my replacement as leader of the party that he had co-founded with me in 2012 by agreeing to a merger of our respective parties. But for Hun Sen, the laws designed for me in 2017 were no longer enough: he had to find some other way to eliminate the CNRP. Hun Sen could come up with nothing better than to accuse Kem Sokha of “treason” with “collusion with foreign countries and agents”. This hastily fabricated, bogus charge served as the new pretext to finally dissolve the CNRP on 16 November 2017.

Since his arbitrary arrest on the night of 3 September 2017, Kem Sokha has been unjustly deprived of his liberty for two years: the first in prison, the second under house arrest. His trial began on 15 January 2020. Having lost his right to leave Cambodia, Kem Sokha remains, above all, a hostage of Hun Sen.

These facts show the contemptible, odious and revolting nature of the Kem Sokha trial. This is nothing more than a grotesque and cynical show trial directed by Hun Sen to justify the dissolution of the CNRP, which represented this former Khmer Rouge dictator’s last serious obstacle as he sought to ensure his absolute power for life.

The international community must not normalise relations with Hun Sen’s Cambodia until the authorities have withdrawn their baseless charge against Kem Sokha and reinstated the CNRP. These are the indispensable conditions for the restoration of multi-party democracy in my unfortunate country, as guaranteed by international treaty in the Paris Peace Agreements of 1991.

Image: Sam Rainsy

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