A Cambodian court has set a date for the long-delayed trial on treason charges of opposition leader Kem Sokha, ordering him to appear at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Jan. 16. Three judges will preside over the case, the Dec. 13 summons issued by Deputy Prosecutor Plang Sophal says.

Kem Sokha, president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), was arrested in September 2017 over an alleged plot backed by the United States to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than 35 years.

Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP two months later in a move that allowed Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) to win all 125 seats in Parliament in a July 2018 election and drew U.S. sanctions and the suspension of trade privileges with the European Union.

Scores of CNRP members and supporters have since been incarcerated, caught in a tortuous legal process made slower by COVID-19 restrictions. Kem Sokha’s own trial opened in January 2020, but officials suspended hearings that March due, they said, to concerns over the spread of the pandemic.

Kem Sokha’s lawyer Meng Sopheary could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but she recently told RFA she wants the court to dismiss the charges against him, or at least allow more observers to attend his trial.

“As a lawyer helping with his case, I want the court to drop all the charges against him and allow him to regain his full freedom,” she said.

CPP spokesman Sok Ey San said that the court will make its own decision in Kem Sokha’s case, free from outside interference.

“I hope the court hears this case as soon as possible” to avoid any criticism, the ruling party spokesman said.

Speaking from exile in Finland, Cambodian political analyst Kim Sok denounced the coming trial as a sham, saying Hun Sen will never allow Kem Sokha or the CNRP’s Paris-based acting president Sam Rainsy to take up political activity again.

“This isn’t a trial seeking justice. It’s just a show,” he said.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court meanwhile issued an order to authorities to assess the value of CNRP’s former headquarters building in preparation for sale, with the appraisal scheduled for Dec. 20.

Ny Sokha, president of the Cambodian rights group Adhoc, called the court’s move a decision based on politics, and not on law.

“This is a joke. We should not use the court to settle a political conflict,” he said. “This is just making things worse.”

Cambodian political party FUNCINPEC at the same time is facing a split within its ranks, with one group wanting Princess Norodom Arunrasmy – daughter of former Cambodian king Norodom Sihanouk – to lead the party, while another group wants acting president Prince Chakravuth, son of late party leader Prince Norodom Ranariddh, to lead.

Speaking to RFA, party board chairman Phann Sithi said that Princess Norodom Arunrasmy is next in line to lead, but party spokesman Nhoeurn Raden said that Prince Ranariddh, the late party member, had wanted his son Prince Chakravuth to be named president.

The party will convene a congress to elect Prince Chakravuth president, he said, adding that the party’s board members have now been fired and have no authority to make decisions on the party’s behalf.

FUNCINPEC won elections in Cambodia in 1993 but the party was deposed in a bloody 1997 coup by Hun Sen, then a coalition partner. In 2017, FUNCINPEC leader Ranariddh shocked admirers by backing Hun Sen’s dissolution of the CNRP, Hun Sen’s only remaining viable opposition.

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