Kem Sokha speaks to media as he departs his residence for the Phnom Penh municipal court for his trial on January 15, 2020

Cambodia: Authorities must overturn baseless treason conviction of opposition leader

Ahead of tomorrow’s appeal hearing for Kem Sokha, the Cambodian opposition leader convicted of treason and sentenced to 27 years in jail, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Research Montse Ferrer said:

“We urge the Cambodian authorities to overturn the baseless treason conviction and sentence of Kem Sokha and end their ongoing crackdown against opposition groups.

“The conviction and 27-year prison sentence for Sokha, a political opposition leader, shows Cambodian authorities’ disregard for human rights and the rule of law.

“Anyone who dares to speak out against the government is at risk. Cambodian authorities must respect, protect, promote and fulfil the human rights of everyone in the country including the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and end the increasing restriction of civic space. 

“Kem Sokha has spent years in detention, moved in and out of prison, and endured house arrest in a virtually ceaseless attempt to silence him. The Cambodian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release him.” 


Kem Sokha is the former president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). On 3 September 2017, he was arrested and charged under Article 443 of the Criminal Code for “conspiring with [a] foreign power”. The charges state that Sokha had a “secret plan” which had been carried out since 1993 to overthrow the government. He was convicted of treason and sentenced to 27 years in prison in the lead-up to the 2023 national election.

In the lead-up to last year’s election, political opponents were harassed, intimidated, beaten and jailed in mass trials. Opposition party activists have been attacked in the streets with metal batons on multiple occasions, with one political activist stabbed to death in 2021 in what many believe to have been a targeted attack.

During Sokha’s trial, which was drawn out for more than a year in part due to Covid-19 delays, the prosecution provided little evidence besides a speech given by Sokha in Australia in 2013 in which he said that the US government had advised him to set up a human rights NGO. 

Sokha spent a year in pre-trial detention in a remote prison and another under house arrest. This reflects a broader trend of people facing long periods in pre-trial detention, a pattern which has been documented across the country. 

The Supreme Court of Cambodia dissolved the CNRP two months after Sokha’s arrest, following accusations that the party was plotting to topple the government ahead of the 2018 elections in which former prime minister Hun Sen’s Cambodia People’s Party (CPP) won all 125 seats. In 2023, after the sentencing of Sokha, the CPP again claimed victory with no viable opposition party contesting the vote.  

At least 23 members of opposition groups are currently detained by Cambodian authorities after being arbitrarily arrested on bogus charges, solely for peacefully exercising their human rights. Dozens of CNRP members were sentenced throughout 2022 in mass trials that denied them the right to a fair trial and made a mockery of justice.