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Hun Sen says he never claimed the US was behind a plot to oust him
Kem Sokha, former leader of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, heads to Phnom Penh Municipal Court for the resumption of his trial on treason charges on Jan. 19. (Photo: AFP)
Lawyers for Kem Sokha, former leader of the outlawed Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), have called for his acquittal after Prime Minister Hun Sen said the United States was not behind a plot to overthrow his government.
Hun Sen told supporters in Washington that neither he nor his government had ever accused the US government of being connected to the Kem Sokha case.
“Neither the court nor the government accused the United States … this is not about Cambodia and the United States, it is about Kem Sokha,” the prime minister said ahead of the US-ASEAN summit.
“We are not accusing the United States of helping Kem Sokha to overthrow the government,” he said.
Kem Sokha was arrested in 2017 and has been before the courts in a long-running treason trial amid accusations by prosecutors that he had attempted to overthrow Hun Sen’s government with the help of the US. If convicted, he faces 15-30 years in prison.
Co-defense lawyer Pheng Heng told CamboJA News that lawyers for the government had named at least eight countries during the court hearings, including the US.
The CNRP was dissolved by the courts in 2017 amid a crackdown on opposition dissent. Many of its leaders have been arrested and jailed, while some have fled overseas
“If the government said the United States is not involved in the case or has not helped Kem Sokha in any attempt to overthrow the government, the government should drop all charges against him,” he said.
Another defense lawyer, Chan Chen, said Hun Sen’s comments “should be sufficient for their client to be free from the charge of conspiracy with a foreign power.”
According to prosecutor Chhay Hong, a video clip filmed in Australia revealed Kem Sokha “was following orders from the US to overthrow the Cambodian government just like the way it was done in the former Yugoslavia.”
That prompted a comment from the US ambassador to Cambodia, Patrick Murphy, who said: “We’re troubled to see prosecutors that have introduced into the courtroom fabricated conspiracy theories about the United States.”
According to a Reuters dispatch, Hun Sen also accused the United States of supporting the CNRP in plotting a “color revolution” like those that toppled Eastern European governments.
The CNRP was dissolved by the courts in 2017 amid a crackdown on opposition dissent. Many of its leaders have been arrested and jailed, while some have fled overseas.
At elections held in mid-2018, Hun Sen’s long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won every seat contested in the National Assembly and the country reverted to a one-party state for the first time since United Nations peacekeepers arrived to oversee elections in 1993.
UN experts have said they had strong grounds to believe Kem Sokha’s trial “is politically motivated and forms part of a larger pattern of the misapplication of laws to target political opponents and critics of the government.”
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