March 17, 2022
PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – A Cambodian court sentenced 20 former politicians and activists to up to 10 years in prison on Thursday for sedition, a lawyer and a human rights group said, part of a broad crackdown on the opposition that has drawn international condemnation.
Sam Rainsy, the self-exiled founder of the disbanded opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has already been convicted of multiple offences and was among those found guilty on Thursday over remarks the authorities says were tantamount to plotting to overthrow the government.
More than 100 opposition members or supporters have been charged with treason and incitement in the past few years in Cambodia, where Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled for 37 years, has been accused of trying crush all challenges to his party’s political monopoly.
Former CNRP leader Kem Sokha is among dozens of people on trial for treason, many of whom are living in exile.
The government has denied targeting the opposition and says the trials are not politically motivated.
Rainsy, Hun Sen’s biggest rival, who fled to France for fear of persecution in 2015, said the justice system was corrupt.
“The will for democratic change which the Cambodian people have demonstrated on every available occasion is impossible to extinguish. Opposing dictatorship is a duty, not a crime,” he said in an email, when asked about his conviction.
Seven senior CNRP members were tried in absentia and sentenced to 10 years in prison while 13 of its supporters, who were in custody, were each ordered to serve three years and eight months in prison, defence lawyer Sam Sokong said.
He said the case was politically motivated and all his clients were guilty of was voicing their support for Rainsy to return.
“What (our clients) said was just a right to express opinions as guaranteed by the constitution,” he said.
Plang Sophal, the court’s deputy prosecutor, said he was unaware of the case and declined to comment.
New York-based Human Rights Watch called for international condemnation of the convictions, which it said amounted to a “witch hunt that discredits both the Cambodian government and the country’s courts”.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Kanupriya Kapoor)