Bangkok, Jun 14 (EFE).- A Cambodian court on Tuesday sentenced 51 activists and politicians opposed to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s regime to up to eight years in prison in a collective trial that has been criticized by the nonprofit Human Rights Watch.
“The show trial of members of an opposition party that has long since been dissolved by the courts exposes the Hun Sen government’s fear of any vestige of democracy in Cambodia,” HRW Asia’s Deputy Director Phil Robertson said in response to the sentence by a court in Phnom Penh.
The Cambodian justice system found 51 of the accused guilty, 31 of whom were sentenced to prison terms of between six and eight years, while another 20 were found guilty but the court suspended their sentences of five years in prison.
All of them were convicted of the crimes of “incitement” and “conspiracy” against Hun Sen’s government in connection with their support for exiled politician Sam Rainsy, one of the main opposition leaders, in his attempted return to Cambodia in November 2019.
Of those found guilty, 27 were tried in absentia, such as Rainsy and other prominent members of the outlawed Cambodia National Rescue Party.
Cambodian-American lawyer Seng Theary, who attended the hearing, was sentenced to six years of prison.
“We are deeply troubled by today’s verdict against Seng Theary. Freedom of expression and association, and tolerance of dissenting views, are vital components of democracy,” tweeted United States Ambassador in Cambodia, Patrick Murphy.
“We call on Cambodian authorities to release her and other human rights activists from unjust imprisonment,” he added.
This trial, which began in January 2021, is one of two large scale judicial proceedings against some 140 politicians and activists linked to the main opposition party that was declared illegal in 2017.
“The mass trials against political opposition members are really about preventing any electoral challenge to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s rule, but they have also come to symbolize the death of Cambodia’s democracy,” Robertson said.
“By creating a political dynamic that relies on intimidation and persecution of government critics, Hun Sen demonstrates his total disregard for democratic rights,” he added.
HRW called on the United Nations and the international community to pressurize the Hun Sen government to nullify of sentences and end harassment of the opposition. EFE