Cambodia’s opposition leader jailed for treason
Cambodian top opposition leader Kem Sokha was sentenced on Friday to 27 years in prison for treason in a case that has been denounced as a “miscarriage of justice”.
Kem Sokha was arrested in 2017 in a midnight swoop involving hundreds of security forces. He was accused of concocting a “secret plan” to overthrow longtime Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government in collusion with foreign sources.
The 69-year-old co-founder of the now-defunct Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has long been a prominent opponent of Hun Sen, who critics say has violated democratic freedoms and used the courts to stifle opposition.
Kem Sokha has repeatedly denied charges against him which human rights groups said were intended to bar him from politics ahead of July’s elections.
Immediately after the ruling by the Phnom Penh court, he was placed under house arrest and banned from meeting foreigners and non-family members without court approval.
US Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy, who was in court, called the trial and the verdict a “miscarriage of justice.”
“The United States is deeply troubled by the sentencing of respected political leader Kem Sokha,” he told reporters.
US Ambassador W. Patrick Murphy, center, walks outside Phnom Penh Municipal Court following the verdict in the trial of Kem Sokha, former leader of the now defunct Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), in Phnom Penh on Friday. (Photo: AFP)
Last August, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met Kem Sokha on a visit to Phnom Penh, where he also raised concerns about the kingdom’s ailing democracy in talks with Hun Sen.
Human Rights Watch’s Phil Robertson said the ruling showed that “the authoritarians in Cambodia won.”
“This is Cambodian democracy hitting rock bottom,” he said AFP.
As Kem Sokha was led away from the court, he smiled and greeted the diplomats present at the court AFP reporter said.
“I cannot accept this verdict,” said supporter Chea Samuon AFP outside the court where there was a tight security presence.
“It’s very unfair for him and the people. He’s not guilty, that’s political pressure.”
Kem Sokha has one month to appeal the conviction and prison sentence.
The court also stripped him of his right to vote and banned him from running for political office.
– “Destroying all hope” –
Two months after Kem Sokha’s arrest in 2017, the Cambodian Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP, which was once seen as the only viable opponent of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
This paved the way for the CPP and Hun Sen to win all 125 parliamentary seats in 2018 and transform the country into a one-party state.
Scores of opposition figures have been convicted of treason over the past year, some in absentia – the latest pressure on opponents ahead of the elections.
Supporters of Kem Sokha, former leader of the now defunct Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), gather outside the Phnom Penh District Court in Phnom Penh on Friday. (Photo: AFP)
Last month, Hun Sen ordered one of the country’s few remaining local independent media outlets to shut down after it ran afoul of a news report about his son.
The trial of Kem Sohka highlighted the “frightening problem of state control of the judiciary,” said Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
“Sending Kem Sokha to jail means not only destroying his political party, but also destroying any hope that there can be real general elections in July.”
Amnesty International said the use of courts to prosecute opponents of Hun Sen “knows no bounds”.
“The Cambodian judicial system has once again demonstrated its stunning lack of independence,” said Amnesty International Deputy Regional Director Ming Yu Hah.
Exiled opposition figure Sam Rainsy – who has lived in France since 2015 to avoid jail time on a series of convictions he says are politically motivated – said the trial was based on “fabricated charges”.
“I salute the courage and dignity of Kem Sokha,” he said AFP.
Source: Crypto News Deutsch