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Cambodia: UN experts condemn verdict against opposition leader Kem Sokha

08 March 2023

GENEVA (8 March 2023) – The verdict of treason against Cambodia opposition leader Kem Sokha would have a chilling effect on political activism and freedom of expression in the country ahead of July national elections, UN experts* warned today.

“We believe the conviction against Mr. Sokha is politically motivated and further evidence of an ongoing pattern of the misapplication of laws to target political opponents and any critic of the Government,” the experts said.

Sokha was convicted on charges of conspiracy with a foreign power or treason, in relation to a 2013 speech he delivered in Australia that was broadcast by the Cambodian Broadcasting Network (CBN). He was sentenced to 27-years under house arrest and has also been barred from contesting or voting in the July 2023 elections.

Following his arrest in September 2017, Sokha was denied bail and held in pre-trial detention until his conditional release into house arrest on 10 September 2018. In a 2018 Opinion the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that Sokha’s pre-trial detention was arbitrary. The trial was delayed by the court for two years during the COVID-19 pandemic. Requests to increase the frequency of hearings thereafter were denied with protracted and repeated discussions on evidence.

“The trial of Mr Sokha appears to have been artificially prolonged,” the UN experts said.

“The entire process has been fraught with irregularities, and failed to meet the standard of either Cambodian or international human rights law,” they said.

The experts said the Cambodian opposition leader had been detained without an arrest warrant and disregarding his parliamentary immunity privileges. He was denied access to a lawyer in the early stages of detention and subsequently held in pre-trial detention for a period that exceeded the maximum period permissible under Cambodian law.

Public access to hearings was restricted throughout and strict security protocols continued to be applied even after Covid-19 pandemic restrictions were lifted. “Remarks about the trial by high-level officials while it was ongoing, cast doubt upon the fairness of the entire process,” the experts said. 

“In the run up to national elections in July, this conviction underscores a chilling climate for political activism. We urge authorities to restore Mr. Sokha’s liberty and ensure respect for his fundamental rights,” they said.  


*The experts: Mr. Vitit Muntarbhorn, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in CambodiaMs. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expressionMiriam Estrada-Castillo (Chair-Rapporteur), Mumba Malila (Vice-chairperson), Ganna Yudkivska, Priya Gopalan, Matthew Gillett, Working Group on arbitrary detention, Mr. Clément N. Voule, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and Ms. Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers

UN human rights country page: Cambodia

For inquiries and media requests, please contact Emily Walker (+41 22 917 4121 /[email protected])

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact: Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) and Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected]).

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