Exiled Cambodia opposition leader hit with 10-year jail term

Exiled Cambodia opposition leader hit with 10-year jail term

Relatives of jailed opposition members protest in front of Phnom Penh Municipal Court in Phnom Penh on Thursday, as the court sentenced opposition figures including exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy over an alleged plot to topple strongman ruler Hun Sen. (AFP photo)

A Cambodian court on Thursday sentenced exiled opposition leader Sam Rainsy to 10 years in prison over an alleged plot to topple strongman ruler Hun Sen.

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

As well as Rainsy, the court jailed 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.

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 judgement,” lawyer Sam Sokong told AFP, saying they would appeal.

Outside the court, relatives were bereft.

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

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.

Hun Sen is one of the world’s longest-ruling leaders, maintaining an iron grip on power for more than 30 years, though critics and rights groups say he has ruthlessly crushed dissent by jailing opponents and activists.

Since the last general election in 2018, when Hun Sen’s party won every seat in a vote without a credible opposition, the Cambodian authorities have stepped up arrests of former members of the dissolved opposition party, human rights defenders and dissenting voices.

Human Rights Watch condemned the verdicts and urged the international community to take a stand.

“The mass trial and convictions of political opponents on baseless charges is a witch hunt that discredits both the Cambodian government and the country’s courts,” HRW’s Phil Robertson said in a statement.