PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia’s appeals court on Tuesday rejected a request for the release on bail of opposition leader Kem Sokha, who has been charged with treason in a case that is seen as a partisan political effort by the government ahead of next year’s general election.
Lawyers for Kem Sokha, head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, boycotted the hearing when their demand that their client be allowed to attend was denied. “Our defense team believes that by holding the hearing in the absence of the accused man, Kem Sokha’s rights are being abused, and that this trial cannot guarantee justice,” said lawyer Sam Sokong.
Sam Sokong cited the judge as saying Kem Sokha was not brought to appear because of security concerns, a reference to the prospect of a protest by the opposition leader’s supporters. Hundreds of riot police were deployed around the court, with several fire trucks and police trucks parked nearby. Journalists and members of Kem Sokha’s party were not allowed into the hearing.
Kem Sokha was charged with treason for allegedly conspiring with the United States to topple the government, and could face up to 30 years in prison if convicted. He was arrested early this month on the basis of videos from several years ago showing him at a seminar where he spoke about receiving advice from U.S. pro-democracy groups.
Kem Sokha had been expected to lead his Cambodia National Rescue Party in next year’s election in a strong challenge against the ruling Cambodian People’s Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has held power for three decades. The opposition party has denied the treason allegation, saying the charge is strictly politically motivated.
His Sept. 3 arrest in the middle of the night came amid a crackdown on the media.