A Cambodian court on Wednesday resumes a treason trial against former opposition leader Kem Sokha, who was accused of plotting with the United States to topple the government, two years after the trial was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Kem Sokha, a former leader of the now-outlawed Cambodia National Rescue Party, was arrested in 2017 over an alleged conspiracy with the United States to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power for nearly four decades.
He has vehemently denied the allegations and called for the charges to be dropped.
“I hope the court will decide to drop the charges against me so that we can reach national reconciliation and national unity to develop our country,” he told reporters on Wednesday before arriving at Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
Speaking to Radio Free Asia on Wednesday, government spokesman Phay Siphan said that Kem Sokha could be released after the trial ends, but only if Hun Sen requests amnesty from Cambodia’s king.
There are several other options the government can take to release Kem Sokha after his trial ends, political analyst Seng Sary told the publication.
These include having the court acquit Kem Sokha before “politically rehabilitating” him, or having “the court convict him and then release him at Hun Sen’s request.”
Kem Sokha, 68, was freed from house arrest in 2019 but remained banned from political activities.
The U.S. embassy in Phnom Penh has called on the government to end its “politically motivated trials,” including that of Kem Sokha and other political opposition members, journalists, and labor and environmental activists.
“Promoting democracy and respect for human rights is central to U.S. foreign policy in Cambodia and around the world,” embassy spokesperson Chad Roedemeier said.
In response, Cambodia’s justice ministry said that the trials were not politically motivated and urged the U.S. embassy to provide evidence to support its claim and not to interfere.
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has also urged the government to drop its “ill-founded” and “politically-motivated charges” against Kem Sokha, condemning “his continuing legal harassment.”
“The charges against Kem Sokha are wholly unsubstantiated. They should be dropped, and the trial discontinued in the accordance with his right to a fair trial,” Frederick Rawski, ICJ’s Asia-Pacific director, said in a statement last week.
According to the ICJ, the Cambodian government continues to “systematically repress and persecute” its perceived critics through the abuse of legal and judicial processes, after the ruling party won the 2018 election in a landslide.
More than 100 members of the political opposition in Cambodia faced “politically-motivated charges” in 2019, more than half of whom were detained by the authorities, it added.
Reuters contributed to this report.