Cambodian court jails US lawyer and dozens of others for treason

Cambodian court jails US lawyer and dozens of others for treason

Cambodian court jails US lawyer and dozens of others for treason

A Cambodian court on Tuesday sentenced about 60 opposition figures, including prominent lawyer Theary Seng, for conspiracy to commit treason, in a mass trial that has been condemned by the United States and human rights groups as politically motivated.

Theary Seng, a Cambodian-American lawyer and human rights activist, was one of more than 100 people affiliated with the disbanded Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), accused of treason and incitement.

The Phnom Penh court sentenced Theary Seng to six years in prison and ordered her arrest, her lawyer told reporters.

“This is unacceptable and I will meet her in prison to discuss the appeal,” lawyer Chuong Choungy said out of court, noting that she was one of about 60 co-defendants sentenced to five to eight years in prison.

Theary Seng had arrived at court dressed as the Statue of Liberty with a symbolic necklace around her, and said she expected to be found guilty.

After the verdict, she was bundled up in a police pickup after the verdict, leading to clashes between officers and her supporters.

Theary Seng will appear in Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday.

The statements are likely to fuel international concern over Cambodia’s veteran Prime Minister Hun Sen, and what his critics say is that for many years opposition to his rule has been eliminated. Hun Sen denies that he has persecuted his opponents.

US Embassy spokesman Chad Roedemeier said the United States is “deeply disturbed by today’s unjust statements”.

“The United States has consistently called on Cambodian authorities to halt politically motivated trials, including against US citizen Seng Theary and other human rights defenders, members of the political opposition, journalists, and labor and environmental activists,” Roedemeier told Reuters.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen gestures during a press conference at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh on September 17, 2021.

The court has sentenced veteran opposition leader Sam Rainsy, a former finance minister and leader of the CNRP living in exile in France, to eight years in prison in absentia.

Before her arrest, Theary Seng spoke of the sentence she expected, saying it would apply to all Cambodians who “love justice, who love freedom, who are real democrats”.

“It follows the logic of this autocratic regime to find me guilty,” she told reporters.

Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia for 37 years. He rose to prominence in the 1980s, after the defeat of the Khmer Rouge regime, and tightened his grip on power in the 1990s.

The CNRP was banned and its leader Kem Sokha was arrested before the 2018 general election, causing Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party to win every seat in parliament and sparking international outrage.

The charges against Kem Sokha stem from allegations he colluded with the US over Hun Sen. Kem Sokha and the US reject the charges.

Human Rights Watch urged foreign governments, the United Nations and aid donors to pressure Cambodia to overturn the convictions and end a wide-ranging attack on the country’s remaining civic and democratic space.