At least 200 people including Kem Sokha’s supporters and journalists gathered outside Phnom Penh Municipal Court for the trial. Most journalists were denied entry by court officers who said the courtroom was full. A Reuters reporter noted “a few” were allowed in.
The IFJ was informed that the court had allowed 30 observers during the trial, but it is understood most spaces were reserved for foreign embassies and not the media. Of the 30 observers, sources have stated there were 12 witnesses present and 15 absentees. Court officials stated it was mandatory for all observers to register in advance. Chin Malin, a spoke person for the Justice Ministry, denied the court was excluding journalists and explained it was merely because there was not enough pace for the journalists seeking access. Contradictory reports state the courtroom has a capacity for more than 60 people.
Sokha is being tried before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on treason charges after his arrest on September 3, 2017, when Cambodian police alleged he was conspiring with the United States to overthrow Cambodia’s government. Sohka has denied all allegations. Both the United States and European Union are among those calling for the charges to be dropped to allow for free political expression in Cambodia.
The IFJ said: “We call for an urgent review of this matter to ensure that media representatives have access to observe and report on court proceedings in a case that is significantly in the public interest. Cambodia has continued to deny allegations of censorship despite prosecuting political dissent and now effectively shutting the media out of a case that is a litmus test on that state of democracy in Cambodia. We urge the government to ensure judicial transparency, to allow journalists access to report freely and to protect the right to political expression in Cambodia.”