Kem Sokha: Cambodian Opposition Leader Sentenced to 27 Years of House Arrest for Treason | International

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The leader of Cambodia's outlawed opposition, Kem Sokha, was sentenced this Friday by a court in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, to 27 years in prison, after being found guilty of treason, the politician's family confirmed. The United States and several human rights NGOs have described this charge as "made up." Sokha, who has also been barred for life from running for political office, was previously under house arrest at his home in Phnom Penh.

Monovithya Kem, the politician's daughter, pointed out in a tweet that her father has in turn been prohibited from "all kinds of communication with anyone, except family members." The 69-year-old opposition leader of the outlawed Cambodian National Rescue Party (PRNC) was arrested in 2017 on charges of conspiring with foreigners to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power since 1985.

Sokha's lawyer, Ang Udom, explained that Kem Sokha's legal team will appeal the verdict. “He is under house arrest and has been stripped of all his political and civil rights. This is not justice," the lawyer said, quoted by Reuters.

Sokha's arrest was carried out at the behest of Hun Sen, in the midst of a vast crackdown on the opposition, NGOs and independent media months before the 2018 general elections were to be held. broadcast of a video in which he appeared bragging to his followers that he had advice from the United States to promote a change of political regime in the country.

His arrest was followed by the outlawing of the PRNC and the flight from Cambodia of a hundred of its leaders, the closure of various independent media outlets and the expulsion of some NGOs.

The United States Embassy in Cambodia expressed in a statement its "concern" about the sentence, which is based on an "invented conspiracy" and whose objective is to "silence" the opponent. Denying Kem Sokha "his freedom of expression and association undermines the Cambodian Constitution, international commitments and the progress made towards a pluralistic and inclusive society" in that country, the US legation notes.

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"We call on the authorities to allow all Cambodians to enjoy the universal human rights of peaceful assembly and free expression and to participate in building a truly democratic system," he told reporters outside the court where the trial took place. the US ambassador, Patrick Murphy.

Hun Sen's government has tightened its ties with China in recent years and often ignores Washington's criticism.

For her part, Indonesian parliamentarian Mercy Barends, president of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, criticized in a statement the accusation of treason against Sokha, which she defined as "totally insane" and that "can only be admitted by a court serving of a government that has turned the country into a one-party dictatorship.”

Cambodia's ruling People's Party won all 125 seats in the running in the July 2018 election, in which Sokha's party did not contest. In the previous elections, in 2013, the PRNC obtained almost half of the votes.

The sentence this Friday against the opposition leader, who began to be tried in January 2020 in a process that was lengthened by the covid-19 pandemic, is announced when Cambodia is preparing new general elections, scheduled for June 23 , in which Hun Sen is seeking re-election in the face of a weakened opposition.

Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch (HRW), has stressed that "sending Kem Sokha to prison crushes any hope that there could be a genuine general election in July."

“This verdict is an unequivocal warning to the opposition groups months before the national elections. The use of the courts to harass opponents of Prime Minister Hun Sen knows no bounds," says Amnesty International.

Hun Sen ordered in February the closure of The Voice of Democracy, one of the last independent media outlets in the country, arguing that it had attacked him and his son and harmed Cambodia.

It is almost a given that the Cambodian autocrat will run for another five-year term in the July elections as he prepares his succession, for which he has already lent his support to his eldest son, Hun Manet, deputy commander of the Royal Armed Forces of Cambodia and head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The ruler's scion graduated from the West Point Military Academy, in the United States, in 1999.

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