Cambodian Opposition Leader Will Stay in Jail, Court Rules

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Cambodian Opposition Leader Will Stay in Jail, Court RulesPHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia’s imprisoned opposition leader was denied bail by the Supreme Court on Wednesday, disappointing supporters who had hoped he might be freed now that the country’s widely criticized elections are over.

Kem Sokha, leader of the outlawed Cambodia National Rescue Party, has been held without trial for nearly a year, accused of treason. He is in solitary confinement in a remote prison near the Vietnamese border.

Several Cambodian activists and journalists have been released from prison in recent days, which led some supporters to hope that Mr. Kem Sokha would be next. Many saw the releases as an attempt by the government to burnish its reputation after the July 29 national election, in which the party of the authoritarian prime minister, Hun Sen, won all 125 seats in Parliament.

During the lead-up to the election, Mr. Hun Sen presided over a crackdown on dissenting voices and independent media. Mr. Kem Sokha was arrested on Sept. 4, accused of conspiring with the United States to bring down the Cambodian government. As evidence, prosecutors submitted an old video in which he described getting advice from Americans on building a political movement.

Weeks after the arrest, the Cambodia National Rescue Party was outlawed by the Supreme Court, with more than 100 of the party’s senior members barred from politics for five years. Even signs bearing Mr. Kem Sokha’s face were pulled down across the country.

The abolition of the party — which came close to winning the 2013 election, and which made unprecedented gains in nationwide local polls last summer — left Mr. Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party with only token opposition at the polls last month.

Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday that the grounds for Mr. Kem Sokha’s confinement were “preposterous” and probably violated United Nations standards banning “indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement.” The United Nations’ Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for his release in June. No date for his trial has been set.

Journalists were barred from Mr. Kem Sokha’s hearing on Wednesday, and the Supreme Court did not immediately issue a statement explaining its decision.

Mr. Kem Sokha is being held in isolation despite health problems, including diabetes and high blood pressure, that have not been properly treated, according to family members. His daughter Kem Monovithiya, who has fled Cambodia for fear of being arrested herself, said on Tuesday that his health was deteriorating and that he was often dizzy when he stood up.

She said he was not under a doctor’s care, had not had his blood sugar tested while in jail and simply guessed when to take his medication.

There was a heavy police presence outside the Supreme Court on Wednesday morning as supporters of Mr. Kem Sokha gathered to await the ruling. Morm Kamal, one of the Cambodia National Rescue Party members barred from politics, said he had driven several hours to be there, though he had little hope that the party’s leader would be freed.

“So far, the court has never found him at fault, and they just continue to detain him without finding fault,” he said. “He should be free today.”

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