Cambodia initiates trial for treason against opposition leader as criticism increases

PHNOM PENH: A court met Wednesday to begin the trial of the opposition party leader accused of treason in a case that has been convicted by human rights groups as a measure of lifelong leader Hun Sen to crush his rivals politicians.

Diplomats filled the Phnom Penh Municipal Court amid increased security, and reporters were unable to see the proceedings after the morning court session.

Between 1993 and now, Kem Sokha planned and implemented a secret plan in collusion with foreigners to overthrow the royal government, Cambodian judge Koy Sao said while reading the charges to Sokha.

The judge said that Sokha had conspired with US and Canadian advisors on the regime change, such as Yugoslavia and, before playing a 2013 video clip in which Sokha suggested that he had received political advice from unspecified Americans.

Sokha rejected the video clip as evidence, saying that his version of the video made him say that he would not organize a revolution.

This video is not complete, the content is out of context, it has been edited ... I have my own video, will the court play it? Has the court verified this video? Sokha said.

Several countries and institutions were named in the case, including the European Union (EU), USAID, United States and Canada, as well as individuals such as the President Donald Trump and senator.

It could take up to three months to issue a verdict, defense lawyers said Tuesday, which means the case could still be in progress by the time the EU makes a decision next month on whether to cut Cambodia The preferential trading status over your human rights record.

Kem Sokha was arrested in 2017 and his opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party was banned ahead of a 2018 election, in which the party of Hun Sen won all the parliamentary seats.

He was released from house arrest in November, but the ban on participating in political activities was maintained.

Kem Sokha's daughter, Monovithya Kem, called the trial against her father a farce, and human rights groups urged that the case be dismissed.

Kem Sokha will be the victim of an organized trial on completely false charges of treason, said Phil Robertson, Asia's deputy director of Human Rights Watch, based in New York.

Many other opposition figures have fled into exile and have accused Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 35 years, of establishing a one-party state.

The EU, which accounts for nearly half of Cambodia 's exports, will decide in February whether to remove Cambodia from its Everything But Arms trade scheme over the crackdown on political expression.