CAMBODIA: In a major trial denounced by the United States and rights groups as politically motivated, a Cambodian court sentenced roughly 60 opposition activists to prison on, including famed lawyer Theary Seng, for planning to commit treason.
More than 100 members of the defunct Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) were charged with treason and incitement, including Theary Seng, a Cambodian-American lawyer and human rights activist.
According to her counsel, a court in Phnom Penh sentenced Theary Seng to six years in prison and ordered her detention.
“This is not acceptable, and I will meet with her in prison to discuss an appeal,” her lawyer, Chuong Choungy, said outside the court, noting that she was one of roughly 60 co-defendants sentenced to five to eight years in prison.
Theary Seng had appeared in court dressed like the Statue of Liberty, with a symbolic chain around her neck, and had stated that she anticipated to be found guilty.
She was hauled into a police pickup truck following the decision, resulting in scuffles between officers and her supporters.
The verdicts are sure to reignite worldwide alarm about Hun Sen, Cambodia’s senior prime minister, and what his detractors claim has been the systematic extermination of opposition to his rule over many years. Hun Sen denies that he persecutes his political opponents.
The United States is extremely concerned by today’s wrongful rulings, according to US embassy spokesperson Chad Roedemeier.
Roedemeier told Reuters that the US has regularly urged on Cambodian authorities to discontinue politically motivated trials, including those involving US citizen Seng Theary and other human rights advocates, political opposition members, journalists, and labor and environmental activists.
Keeping a close watch
In his absence, the court sentenced senior opposition leader Sam Rainsy, a former finance minister and leader of the CNRP, to eight years in prison.
Theary Seng spoke of the judgement she expected before her detention, saying it would apply to all Cambodians who love justice, love freedom, who are genuine democrats.
She told reporters that finding her guilty follows the logic of this autocratic administration.
Cambodia has been ruled by Hun Sen for 37 years. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge’s “killing fields” government in the 1980s, he rose to popularity and solidified his hold on power in the 1990s.
Before the 2018 general election, the CNRP was banned and its leader Kem Sokha was jailed, allowing Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party to win every parliamentary seat and provoking international anger.
The charges against Kem Sokha arise from allegations that he collaborated with the US to depose Hun Sen, which both he and the US deny.
Human Rights Watch encouraged international governments, the UN, and aid donors to pressure Cambodia to overturn the convictions and put a halt to a wide assault on the country’s remaining civic and democratic space.