On December 3, the investigating judge in the case of Kem Sokha, the Cambodian opposition leader arrested on treason charges in September 2017, said that he thinks he now has “adequate evidence” to convict the detained politician of “conspiracy with a foreign power,” under Article 443 of the Criminal Code. While this may seem unlikely based on what we know publicly so far, it has nonetheless put into focus the issue of Kem Sokha’s trial and how it may evolve within the wider context of Cambodian domestic and foreign affairs.
Based on what we know publicly so far, it does not seem likely that the investigating judge has as much evidence as his claim may seem to suggest. It has taken him almost two years to lead the investigation – in which time Kem Sokha spent a year in jail, then another year under house arrest. But the closing of his inquiries on November 14 happened to come as the European Union is now nearing its final decision on Cambodia’s fate in its preferential Everything But Arms (EBA) trade scheme. If Cambodia loses its place, its export-driven economy, largely reliant on cheap exports to Europe, will falter. And since the EU is demanding Kem Sokha’s release, Prime Minister Hun Sen can now play his bargaining chip.