PHNOM PENH (AFP) – A Phnom Penh court convicted around 60 opposition figures including an outspoken United States (US)-Cambodian activist in a mass trial yesterday as long-serving leader Hun Sen cracks down on dissent ahead of national elections next year.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who has lived in France since 2015 to avoid jail for convictions he said are politically motivated, had another eight years added to his existing sentence.
Outside court, US-Cambodian lawyer and campaigner Theary Seng – dressed as the Statue of Liberty – was abruptly dragged into a car by police after receiving a six-year jail term for treason.
“I am ready for a guilty verdict because this regime will not let me go free,” Theary Seng said before her conviction. “It will be an unfair and unjust verdict because I am innocent, the others charged with me are innocent,” the 51-year-old added.
US Ambassador to Cambodia Patrick Murphy tweeted he was “deeply troubled” by the verdict against Theary Seng.
“Freedom of expression and association, and tolerance of dissenting views, are vital components of democracy,” the ambassador said, calling for her release.
Theary Seng is among scores caught up in a push to detain and arrest former members of the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), human rights defenders, and any dissenting voices to the administration.
The case is linked to Sam Rainsy’s failed attempt to return to Cambodia in 2019 – moves characterised by the government as an aborted bid to overthrow Hun Sen.
The charges faced by those convicted yesterday ranged from treason to incitement and conspiracy.
Several defendants have already been jailed, while many remain at large or have fled Cambodia.