PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Lawyers for Cambodia’s detained opposition leader Kem Sokha called on Monday for treason charges against him to be dropped and for his release from house arrest, two years after he was first arrested ahead of national elections.
Critics have called Cambodia essentially a one-party state after longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party won all of the seats in parliament in July 2018, months after Sokha’s opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was dissolved by the Supreme Court.
Sokha was arrested in Sept. 2017 but has never been brought to trial. He was released from prison on bail last year but remains under house arrest in the capital, Phnom Penh.
“We are demanding the court to have the charges dropped, and in this case, we have already submitted documents to investigating judge that it is enough time for the judge to drop the case,” one of Sokha’s attorneys, Chan Chen, told Reuters.
Sokha needs medical attention, Chen said, and family members are facing intimidation.
“His rights and liberty are still tightly restricted ... Even his family, especially his wife, are being monitored in an intimidating way,” Chen said.
Ministry of Justice spokesperson Chin Malin dismissed Chen’s allegations.
“The allegation of intimidation is a one-sided story ... it is hardly believable,” Malin told Reuters, adding that Chen’s call for Sokha’s release would not persuade the court because the appeal contained no new evidence and testimony.
Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP in Nov. 2017 after finding it and leader Sokha had plotted with the United States to overthrow Hun Sen, who has been in power for more than three decades.
The United Nations and some Western countries have said last year’s election was flawed because of the lack of a credible opposition, among other factors, while rights groups termed it the death of democracy.
The European Union (EU) in February started an 18-month process that could lead to the suspension of Cambodia’s special Everything But Arms (EBA) access, which allows for duty free access for all exports to the EU, except arms, over its human rights and political record.
In a Facebook post on Monday, Sokha urged people to oppose what he called the politics of destruction.
“Khmer people, of all walks of life, have already suffered enough,” Sokha wrote.
Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; editing by Darren Schuettler