The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has been accused by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s administration of plotting a US-backed putsch and its leader Kem Sokha was jailed in September.
The treason charge comes from a 2013 video during which it is claimed Kem Sokha says the US helped plan his political career. The charge carries a jail sentence of 15 to 30 years.
Hun Sen publicly encouraged CNRP MPs to defect to his party before the Supreme Court decision.
The June 2017 municipal elections pointed towards a surge in opposition support with the CNRP taking close to 44 per cent of all seats.
Hun Sen’s crackdown on democracy could have been influenced by the lesson of Thailand, which abandoned democracy with its coup in May 2014 without suffering significant consequences from the west.
“This is the end of democracy in Cambodia. We have not done anything wrong. We have fought for democracy. They have killed the will of more than 3 million people in Cambodia,” said party spokesman Yim Sovann, referring to the number of CNRP voters in June.
The capital was on security lockdown with a large perimeter surrounding the Supreme Court sealed off by the police and military. The president of the supreme court, Dith Munthy, 76, has reportedly been a member of Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party since 1989 and has also served on two committees.
Kingsley Abbott of the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists said: “It makes a mockery of fair justice to have someone in a leadership position within one political party sit in judgement on the conduct of that party’s main opposition. There can be no starker example of an inherent conflict of interest.”
Deputy opposition leader Mu Sochua, 63, fled to Germany last month after being labelled an “urban terrorist” by Hun Sen.
She called the court ruling “a blow to democracy” but predicted a backlash.
“The democratic movement for change inside and outside Cambodia will be glued together stronger than ever,” Sochua said after the decision. “You can let peace die, democracy die in Cambodia or you can take action to be accountable to your own taxpayers.”
Former CNRP boss Sam Rainsy fled to France last year after being charged with defamation for accusing the government of planning the death of prominent activist Kem Ley.
Sam Rainsy has subsequently been convicted of defamation.
A dictatorial touch: Hun Sen with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin last year. Picture credit: Wikimedia