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Cambodia opposition figures hit with jail terms

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – A Cambodian court handed out jail terms yesterday to 20 opposition figures including exiled leader Sam Rainsy, who condemned the judgement as a fresh bid by strongman ruler Hun Sen to quash dissent.

Rainsy has lived in France since 2015 to avoid jail on a number of convictions he sayidare politically motivated, including a 25-year sentence passed in March last year.

The court jailed Rainsy and six other senior opposition figures for 10 years, and 13 more activists for five years. One other activist was given a suspended five-year sentence. “The justice system has again been used as a blunt political tool in an attempt to quash opposition to Hun Sen’s dictatorship. Opposing dictators is a duty, not a crime,” Rainsy wrote on his Twitter account.

There were scuffles outside the court as security officers tried to confiscate a banner from the defendants’ wives and supporters, knocking some of them to the ground.

“After the verdict was announced, my jailed clients screamed out injustice – they were so angry with the judgment,” lawyer Sam Sokong told AFP, saying they would appeal.

Relatives of jailed opposition members protest in front of Phnom Penh Municipal Court. PHOTO: AFP

Outside the court, relatives were bereft.

“This is very unjust. I expected he would be released today,” So Ith, the wife of one defendant, told AFP.

For the defendants sentenced to five years in prison, the court suspended part of their terms, so they will serve three years and eight months.

The charges related to Rainsy’s planned return to Cambodia in 2019, when he called on people to rise up against Hun Sen.

Around 150 opposition figures and activists have been put on trial for treason and incitement charges – mostly for sharing social media messages supporting Rainsy’s return to the kingdom.

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