Cambodian court convicts 21 opposition figures of treason

Cambodian court convicts 21 opposition figures of treason
A court has convicted 21 people of treason and related charges for their nonviolent political opposition to Cambodia’s government

A court in Cambodia on Thursday convicted 21 people of treason and related charges for their nonviolent political opposition to the government several years ago.

Those convicted by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court included seven exiled leaders of the disbanded Cambodia National Rescue Party, each of whom received 10-year prison terms.

They included party co-founder Sam Rainsy who has been in exile since 2016 to avoid serving prison sentences for defamation and other charges. He says the cases against him are politically motivated.

Sam Rainsy has long been the harshest critic and most popular opponent of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has held power for 37 years. The treason case involved his attempted return to Cambodia in 2019 that was blocked by the government.

The other party leaders convicted were Sam Rainsy’s wife Tioulong Saumura and five former lawmakers.

Another 13 defendants who were convicted were ordinary party supporters, each sentenced to five years imprisonment, reduced by the court to three years and eight months. One more man, not present at the trial, had his sentence suspended for health reason because he had suffered a stroke two years ago.

Defense lawyer Sam Sokong said the 13 people who were present at Thursday’s court session told him to file an appeal against the verdict.

“Upon the announcement of the verdict, these 13 people shouted together at the judge that they were innocent and they cannot accept this unjust verdict,” he said.

All the defendants have been charged with conspiracy to commit treason and incitement to commit a felony, mostly in connection with organizing Sam Rainsy’s abortive 2019 trip home. The party leader were also convicted of inciting members of the armed forces not to follow their orders.

The CNRP, as the sole credible opposition party, had been expected to present a strong challenge to Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party in the 2018 general election.

Hun Sen launched a sweeping crackdown on his opponents before the election, the high court disbanded the CNRP and its lawmakers were removed from Parliament. Hun Sen’s party subsequently won every seat in the National Assembly.

Several Western nations imposed sanctions on Cambodia’s government after concluding the 2018 election was neither free nor fair. The harshest measure came from the European Union, which withdrew some preferential trading privileges.

The trial started in 2020 but was suspended due to coronavirus restrictions, with hearings resuming in December last year. Initially, nearly 130 defendants were listed, and they were split into groups for three trials to make the proceedings more manageable. Many did not turn themselves in, and how many will eventually go through the judicial process is unclear.

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