Cambodia resumes mass trial of opposition figures

PHNOM PENH (AFP) – A closed-door mass trial of 150 Cambodian opposition figures resumed in Phnom Penh yesterday, in what critics labelled a politically motivated sham and an affront to human rights and the rule of law.

The case is linked to attempts by exiled opposition figurehead Sam Rainsy to return to Cambodia in 2019 from France, where he has lived since 2015 to avoid jail for convictions that he said are bogus.

Many of the defendants stand accused of sharing messages on social media platforms supporting Rainsy’s attempt to enter the kingdom.

Prime Minister Hun Sen is one of the world’s longest-serving leaders, maintaining a 35-year grip on power with methods that include jailing political opponents and activists.

Many of the accused in yesterday’s trial have connections to Rainsy’s Cambodia National Rescue Party – which a court dissolved in November 2017 – while others are human rights activists.

The charges vary and include “plotting”, “incitement to commit a felony”, “inciting military personnel to disobedience” and a raft of “criminal attempt” offences under Cambodia’s criminal code.

Those convicted of “criminal attempt” charges face up to 30 years in prison.

Police and security guards removed defendants’ supporters from around the courthouse on Thursday, dragging away the tearful wife of a defendant as she tried to catch a glimpse of her husband, held in custody since May. “My husband is standing trial in the court,” the woman, Prum Chantha, shouted at the guards.

“I want to meet him, but you guys block me. I feel pain.”

A United States-Cambodian human rights activist Theary Seng, who is facing treason and incitement charges, was defiant as she walked into court.