CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha walked free from the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday afternoon after being questioned by a prosecutor for seven hours over his connections to a plethora of protests that broke out in Phnom Penh following the disputed 2013 national election.
Less than a month after Prime Minister Hun Sen alleged that Mr. Sokha confessed to having tried to “topple” his government through the CNRP’s postelection protests in 2013, Mr. Sokha arrived at the court at 8:30 a.m., honoring a summons issued last week.
About 300 people turned out in front of the court to support Mr. Sokha, remaining calm throughout most of the day with jeering breaking out only when trucks full of notoriously violent black-helmeted district security guards slowly rolled past to force the crowd from the road onto the curbside.
Mr. Sokha emerged from the court shortly after 3:30 p.m., telling gathered reporters and his supporters that the extended questioning was tedious.
“The court prosecutor questioned me for seven hours, and asked for too many details by asking about every single word I have said at the demonstrations, in America and at all incidents,” he said.
“They asked me things that did not need to be asked,” Mr. Sokha said. “They asked me for the definition of ‘revolution’ and asked me why [union leader] Vorn Pao came to greet me at the airport when I arrived from the U.S.”
On Sunday, the government aired a 30-minute film on national television building a case that Mr. Sokha and Mr. Pao worked together in an effort to overthrow the government following the 2013 election.
Mr. Sokha said the prosecutor repeatedly asked him the same questions.
“They did not press any charges, they only questioned me,” Mr. Sokha said, before leaving in an SUV.
Meng Sopheary, one of Mr. Sokha’s lawyers, said deputy prosecutor Ly Sophana first focused his questioning on a case file concerning protest events on January 3 last year.
On that day, military police put down a garment factory protest, shooting dead five workers and beginning a wave of violent repression of a nationwide strike by garment workers that had dovetailed with CNRP protests.
“[Mr. Sophana] just repeatedly asked the same questions about the matters that occurred in the past,” Ms. Sopheary said. “Whatever he said, they would just pick a single word…and ask him for his interpretation of [the word].”
“They asked about the demonstrations, the words he said in the U.S., and he was also questioned about the matter of [housing rights activist] Tep Vanny blocking the road, the issue of garment workers staging a protest in front of the Ministry of Labor to make demands about wages,” she said.
Ms. Sopheary said the list of protests Mr. Sokha was asked about ran so long that she was not sure exactly how many were raised during the seven hours.
“We requested that the court prosecutor stop summoning him for questioning like this,” Ms. Sopheary said.
Mr. Sophana could not be reached Wednesday.
The court last questioned Mr. Sokha on July 25, 10 days after a violent street brawl broke out during a CNRP-led protest near Freedom Park. But the legal cases against him went dormant after he gained immunity by swearing into parliament with 54 other opposition lawmakers in August.
However, Mr. Hun Sen last month seized on a speech that Mr. Sokha delivered in the U.S. apologizing to supporters there that the CNRP did not remove the CPP during the postelection demonstrations in the second half of 2013.
“I apologize to brothers and sisters that I could not lead change 100 percent,” Mr. Sokha told supporters on March 13.
Within a week, the prime minister said the apology amounted to a confession that the opposition leader had intended to illegally overthrow his government.
“There’s a person coming to confess that they tried to topple the government and the CPP but that they failed, and are now apologizing to people in the U.S.,” Mr. Hun Sen said on March 18.
“If the robber and robber chief confess, what legal action should we take?” he asked.