Hundreds of Cambodians charged with treason

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

More than 100 Cambodians part of a non-government organization are undergoing trial for treason charges, a case widely condemned as a move by Prime Minister Hun Sen to silence his political rivals.

According to a report by Al Jazeera, a Cambodian court summoned 121 members of Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) but only 34 showed up as many believed that they would not get a fair hearing.

The defendants were all charged with conspiracy to commit treason and incitement to commit a felony.

If proven, the defendants could face up to 12 years behind bars, according to lawyers and human rights activists.

Am Sam Ath, who works with the Cambodian human rights group Licadho, said that based on copies of court summonses, many defendants were accused of their involvement in organizing a failed trip by opposition leaders Sam Rainsy and Mo Sochua that would have brought them back from exile last November.

Rainsy is a co-founder of the CNRP who has been in exile since 2016 in a bid to avoid serving prison sentences for defamation and other offenses. He said that charges cases against him were politically motivated.

Meanwhile, among the defendants who showed up in court were former opposition senator Thach Setha and Cambodian-American human rights activist and lawyer Theary Seng.

“I have done nothing wrong… it’s a sham trial. It’s political theatre. It is a political circus,” Seng was quoted as telling reporters outside the courtroom.

“It’s only a way to block the view of the international community of the real serious issues of human rights violations, of political repression,” she added, describing the trial as a sham scripted by Hun Sen’s government.

Two hours after, the judge split the case in two at the request of lawyers in a bid to prepare more for the trial. Some defendants sought permission to choose their own legal representatives rather than use ones appointed by the court.

The trial has been deferred and was expected to resume between January and March next year.

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