The trial of deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha, who was charged after twice refusing to appear in court as a witness in a prostitution case against his own alleged mistress, will start on September 9, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court announced on Friday.
Meng Sopheary, a lawyer for Mr. Sokha, said she received a copy of a letter signed by deputy prosecutor Sieng Sok at about noon on Friday confirming the date for the trial over “refusal to appear,” which carries a prison sentence of one to six months.
Ms. Sopheary criticized the speed with which the indictment was released and the trial was scheduled.
“This case, I think that the court seems to have accelerated the procedure extremely, because the closing order was released on [July] 23rd, then the court assigned a presiding judge on the 24th, and the court’s prosecutor issued an invitation for [lawyers] on the same day,” Ms. Sopheary said.
“The court did many things in one day. That is why I see that the procedure has been extremely accelerated because lawyers have five days to file an appeal against a closing order, but the court didn’t give space for us,” she said, adding that an appeal was filed on Thursday.
It was too early to say whether Mr. Sokha or his lawyers would attend the trial, she said.
“Our defense lawyers will meet to discuss the issue…because it’s not clear whether we will be absent or whether we will ask for the trial to be delayed,” she said.
The deputy opposition leader has been holed up in the CNRP’s headquarters in Phnom Penh for three months since heavily armed police attempted to arrest him in late May for ignoring a second summons in the case, which is widely seen as being politically motivated.
The scandal began in March when recordings were leaked online apparently of Mr. Sokha flirting with an alleged mistress, at times speaking about sex and promising lavish gifts.
The government launched an inquiry into the audio clips, identifying the woman in the recordings as a 25-year-old hairdresser. Four officers with rights group Adhoc and an election official have since been locked up for their involvement in allegedly bribing the woman to deny the affair.
The scandal has come while opposition leader Sam Rainsy is in self-imposed exile in France to avoid a two-year prison sentence in an unrelated defamation case.
Mr. Sok, the deputy prosecutor in charge of the case, could not be reached for comment regarding the upcoming trial, which will be overseen by Presiding Judge Keo Mony.
Suos Villa Rany, deputy director of the court’s administration, confirmed the trial date.
On Friday morning, Mr. Sokha met with U.S. Ambassador William Heidt at the CNRP’s headquarters for the second time since he went into hiding.
The pair “exchanged views on a number of policy issues, including the state of the judiciary and the National Election Committee’s ongoing preparations for upcoming elections,” according to a post on the U.S. Embassy’s Facebook.
Embassy spokesman Jay Raman declined to comment further on the meeting or on the legal pursuit of Mr. Sokha.
The U.S., along with many other democratic donors and the U.N., has repeatedly called for political negotiations to end the government’s assault on the opposition. However, the CPP refuses to acknowledge any role in the cases and says that the courts are acting independently.