PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia’s opposition leader renewed a call to have treason charges against him dropped on Thursday, saying there was no evidence to prove that he had tried to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Kem Sokha was arrested in 2017 and his party banned in a crackdown by Hun Sen on the opposition, civil society groups and the media in the run-up to the 2018 parliamentary election, in which the ruling party won every seat.
Sokha, 66, is on trial charged with treason, accused of conspiring with the United States to topple Hun Sen. He denies the charges and says they are politically motivated. If convicted, he would face up to 30 years in prison.
“The charge is that it was secret collusion with foreigners, who are the foreigners?” Sokha told reporters at his home in the capital Phnom Penh ahead of his trial on Thursday.
“There is no evidence showing my secret plans or contracts, there is none,” he said.
“If Cambodia wants to show that this court has good reforms, that it is good and independent, it will show this by a decision to drop the charges against me because I didn’t do anything wrong,” Sokha said.
Sokha said he had received funding from U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) when he was director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) more than a decade ago.
“The Cambodian Center for Human Rights is a legal entity and USAID donors are legitimate, not just for CCHR, but for other organizations, including government agencies, so I believe that the court will give me justice,” Sokha said.
In a separate news conference, the U.S Ambassador to Cambodia, Patrick Murphy, urged the government to return to a democratic path that would create a much more attractive climate for American businesses.
“We encourage Cambodia to return a strong path of multi-party democracy, respect and space for all voices, including criticism and dissent, and a healthy environment for civil society and the media, that will help Cambodia, the Cambodian people and its relations with the international community,” Murphy said.
Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Giles Elgood