PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - The United States ambassador to Cambodia said on Thursday that he is troubled by “fabricated conspiracy theories” at the treason trial of opposition party leader Kem Sokha, who is accused of plotting to overthrow longtime leader Hun Sen.
Kem Sokha was arrested in 2017 and his party was banned as the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen cracked down on opposition, civil society groups and the media in the run-up to 2018 parliament elections in which the ruling party won every seat.
Kem Sokha’s treason charges stem from accusations that he was conspiring with the United States to overthrow Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia with an iron first for more than three decades. Kem Sokha denies the charges, saying they are politically motivated.
“We’re troubled to see prosecutors that have introduced into the courtroom fabricated conspiracy theories about the United States,” U.S Ambassador Patrick Murphy told reporters after briefly attending Kem Sokha’s ongoing trial on Thursday.
“Here’s the truth: the United States has contributed almost $3 billion in recent decades in assistance to Cambodia, including transparent assistance to strengthen institutions and political parties in line with Cambodia’s constitution,” Murphy said.
Murphy said Kem Sokha has a reputation around world as a champion for rights and freedoms and he looked forward to seeing his political rights fully restored.
“This process has potential implications for the rule of law and due process in Cambodia and for the country’s international relations,” Murphy said.
“My government has made it abundantly clear that the United States has never sought to interfere in Cambodia’s governance and we respect Cambodia’s independence and sovereignty,” he said.
As Murphy spoke to journalists, a district official in the capital, Phnom Penh, tried to stop him from speaking, but the ambassador was able to finish his statement before leaving.
Commenting on Murphy’s remarks, government spokesman Phay Siphan said on Thursday that all sides should leave the court to do its work.
“We appeal to all public, including foreigners and Cambodian citizens, to wait and listen to the court, to prosecutors on how they bring and argue charges, we don’t want interference in the judiciary,” Siphan told Reuters.
Hun Sen’s massive crackdown on opposition also prompted the European Union to cut some of Cambodia’s trade preferences this year, which the EU said was the result of his government’s “serious and systematic violations” of human rights.
Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore