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Transparency urged for Cambodian oppn leader’s treason trial

On Wednesday his public trial began with NGO representatives and journalists barred from attending.

IANS | Phnom Penh |

More than 80 Cambodian civil society groups on Thursday have urged the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to broadcast live the treason trial of opposition figure Kem Sokha after hearings had begun a day before amid heavy criticism around transparency.

The 66-year-old Cambodia National Rescue Party co-founder is accused of conspiring with the US to overthrow Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government. He faces up to 30 years in jail if found guilty, reports Efe news.

On Wednesday his public trial began with NGO representatives and journalists barred from attending.

Later only a few journalists were allowed in, with the court citing a lack of space and priority for embassy officials. Rights groups, journalists and civil society organizations criticized the restrictions.

The Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (LICADHO) said in its open letter on Thursday that the court should ensure the trial “is open to the public, independent media outlets and the full participation of civil society organizations”.

“We also call on the court to record and broadcast the trial proceedings live, as they have done in the past,” it said, citing “significant public interest” at home and abroad.

It added that two journalists from independent media outlets who reported on the Wednesday morning session were barred from returning to the courtroom.

Reporter Vicheika Kann said on Twitter Wednesday that a court officer “kicked (her) out” after the morning’s hearing, citing space limitations. However, she said, there had been around 60 visitors in the courtroom with many seats still available.

“Firsthand reports from the trial found that despite the court’s insistence that the courtroom could only seat 30 people, the room had the capacity for more than 60 members of the public,” LICADHO said.

“We call on the court to allow access for family, independent media outlets and civil society groups as well as broadcasting the court proceedings to ensure that this trial takes place in an open and transparent manner with the full participation of the public,” it concluded.

Kem Sokha’s trial continued on Thursday morning and was expected to run every Wednesday and Thursday.

He has issued a statement denying all charges and demanding the case be dropped.

His case has been widely criticized as politically motivated, with concerns that his treatment since his midnight arrest in 2017 has violated rights norms.