The Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism denounces the verdict against Kem Sokha, a Cambodia opposition leader. We are appalled by the Cambodian government’s blatant disregard of the rule of law and due process, and the lack of independence and impartiality of its courts.

Kem Sokha is the president of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was seen as an electoral threat to Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2017, and is one of the most central figures of the opposition in Cambodia. He has been instrumental in leading the opposition movement against the ruling regime. His political career began in human rights activism, and he has since become a prominent voice for democratic reform and social justice in Cambodia.

Kem Sokha was arrested without warrant and charged with treason in September 2017, 10 months before Cambodia’s 2018 elections.[1] The charges against him were based on allegations that he sought to overthrow the government with the help of the United States. Human rights organizations have called these allegations politically motivated. Sokha was denied bail several times until he was conditionally released on house arrest in 2018.[2] It has been reported that the trial had limited media access,[3] and was heavily biased, as the prosecution had no tangible evidence and included manipulated videos and documents, while the defense was denied access to key witnesses.[4] Early this month, the court convicted Kem Sokha of treason and was sentenced to 27 years of house arrest.

Cambodia’s Constitution and laws are in line with international human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration (AHRD). The Constitution recognizes and protects a wide range of civil and political rights, including freedom of speech, and the right to a fair trial. The arrest, detention, and verdict of Kem Sokha is a serious breach of Cambodia’s human rights obligations. It goes against the principles of democracy and a human rights.

The verdict is not only a violation of Sokha’s rights but also an attack on the democratic rights of the Cambodian people. The verdict sends a clear message that anyone who wishes to challenge the ruling party will face harsh consequences. The crackdown on the opposition, civil society, and independent media[5] have made it increasingly difficult for Cambodians to voice their opinions freely, leaving little room for open and honest political debate. This verdict along with the attempts to dissolve Sokha’s opposition party and silence dissidents show the trend of repression and authoritarianism that poses a grave threat to Cambodia’s democratic future.

We call on the Cambodian Government to respect rights to due process, fair trial, free speech and political participation, to ensure an independent and impartial judiciary that upholds the rule of law and safeguards civil liberties, and to immediately release Kem Sokha and allow him to resume his political activities without further persecution.