Cambodian opposition leader sentenced to 27 years in prison for treason

Kem Sokha, former leader of the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party, greets media before his Friday sentencing hearing. (Photo: Greg Baker/AFP)

Friday, according to rights groups, a Cambodian court sentenced prominent opposition leader Kem Sokha to 27 years in prison for treason in a politically motivated prosecution.

Kem Sokha was a co-founder of the defunct Cambodia National Rescue Party and a longtime opponent of Hun Sen, the longest-serving leader in Asia.

"Kem sentenced to 27 years in prison on the charge of collusion with foreigners committed in Cambodia and elsewhere," Phnom Penh court judge Koy Sao said.

The 69-year-old was placed under house arrest immediately following the verdict and is prohibited from interacting with anyone other than immediate family members.

He has one month to appeal his judgment and sentencing, Kem Sokha's attorney Ang Udom informed reporters.

Additionally, the court revoked his right to vote and prohibited him from standing for political office.

Kem Sokha was arrested in 2017 in a midnight raid involving hundreds of security personnel suspected of developing a "secret plan" with foreign groups to overthrow Hun Sen's administration.

He has refuted the claims against him on multiple occasions.

Opponents assert that Hun Sen has curtailed democratic liberties and utilized the courts to repress opponents, imprisoning many opposition activists and human rights advocates.

Chea Samuon, a fan of Kem Sokha, said to AFP outside the courtroom, "I cannot accept this ruling."

"This is extremely unfair to him and the people. He is innocent; this is political persecution."

The US Ambassador to Cambodia, W. Patrick Murphy, was present during the trial and condemned it as a "miscarriage of justice."

In August of last year, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Kem Sokha in Phnom Penh, where he also aired concerns with Hun Sen about the kingdom's weakening democracy.

One-party state

According to rights groups, Hun Sen has restricted democratic liberties and fostered a climate of fear in the country.

Two months after Kem Sokha's imprisonment, Cambodia's Supreme Court dissolved the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which was formerly regarded as the sole credible opponent to the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP).

In 2018, the CPP and Hun Sen won all 125 parliamentary seats, transforming Cambodia into a one-party state.

This year, dozens of opposition figures were convicted of treason, some in absentia – the latest pre-election crackdown on opponents.

In response to a news story about his son, Hun Sen ordered the closure of one of the country's few remaining independent media websites last month.

Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, stated that Kem Sohka's prosecution exemplified the "terrifying issue of state control of the judiciary in the country."

Publish : 2023-03-03 10:25:00

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