Cambodia’s opposition leader Kem Sokha sentenced to 27 years in prison

(Update 1: adds reactions from US embassy, regional bloc, nonprofits)

Bangkok, Mar 3 (EFE).- Cambodia’s opposition leader Kem Sokha was sentenced on Friday to 27 years in prison after being found guilty of treason, sparking sharp reactions from across the globe.

“Kem Sokha has been sentenced to 27 years in prison for treason and banned from politics for life. He has now being taken to his residence and is under court supervision for now,” his daughter, Monovithya Kem, said on Twitter.

“He is also banned from all forms of communication with anyone except family members,” she added.

The 69-year-old Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) co-founder was arrested in 2017 and is accused of conspiring with the United States to overthrow Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.

Sokha’s arrest was carried out at the request of Hun Sen, in power since 1985, amid a widespread crackdown on the opposition, non-governmental organizations and independent media months before the 2018 general elections were held.

The opposition leader’s arrest followed the release of a video in 2013 in which he appeared to be boasting to supporters of having the necessary advice from US pro-democracy organizations to win the elections.

Sokha’s arrest was followed by a legal attack on his party, which was eventually banned towards the end of 2017, resulting in about 100 of its leaders fleeing the country, the closure of several independent media and the expulsion of some nonprofits.

Without the participation of the CNRP, which obtained almost half of the votes in the 2013 elections, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party won the July 2018 elections, sweeping all 125 seats in the National Assembly.

Friday’s sentence against the opposition leader, whose trial began in January 2020 and was delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, comes as Cambodia is gearing up for general elections, scheduled to be held July 23 and in which Hun Sen will be seeking another term.

In a statement, the US embassy in Cambodia said that it was “deeply troubled” by the conviction, which it described as a “fabricated conspiracy” to “silence Kem Sokha.”

“Denying Kem Sokha and other political figures their freedom of expression and association undermines Cambodia’s constitution, international commitments, and past progress to develop as a pluralist and inclusive society,” it added.

“The charge of treason against him is utterly preposterous, and it can only be accepted by a court at the service of a government that has turned the country into a one-party dictatorship, where there is no room for separation of powers, one of the main pillars of any democracy,” Mercy Barends, Chair of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights and Indonesian lawmaker, said in another statement.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, also slammed the sentence, saying that “sending Kem Sokha to prison isn’t just about destroying his political party, but about squashing any hope that there can be a genuine general election in July.”

Amnesty International described the verdict as “an unmistakable warning to opposition groups months before national elections.”

“The use of the courts to hound opponents of Prime Minister Hun Sen knows no limits,” it added. EFE


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