A Phnom Penh court convicted around 60 opposition figures including Theary Seng, an outspoken US-Cambodian activist, who came dressed as the Statue of Liberty at the hearing, in a mass trial Tuesday as long-serving leader Hun Sen cracks down on dissent ahead of national elections next year.
Theary Seng is among scores caught up in a push to detain and arrest former members of the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), human rights defenders, and any dissenting voices.
“I am ready for a guilty verdict because this regime will not let me go free,” Seng said before her conviction.
“It will be an unfair and unjust verdict because I am innocent, the others charged with me are innocent,” the 51-year-old added.
The defendants faced charges ranging from treason to incitement and conspiracy over opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s failed bid to return to Cambodia in 2019, a move characterised by the government as an aborted bid to overthrow Hun Sen.
While some were senior figures in the now-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) directly involved in organising the return, many were prosecuted simply for posting support on social media.
Following Seng’s detention, there was a brief scuffle outside the court between police and relatives of those convicted, as well as her supporters.
“We are deeply troubled by today’s unjust verdicts,” a spokesman for the US embassy in Phnom Penh said, calling for her and others convicted to be released.
The embassy urged Cambodian authorities to “stop politically motivated trials” against political activists, journalists, and human rights campaigners.
“Freedom of expression and association, and tolerance of dissenting views, are vital components of democracy,” US ambassador Patrick Murphy added in a tweet.
Sam Rainsy, who has lived in France since 2015 to avoid jail for convictions he says are politically motivated, had another eight years added to his existing sentence.
He said, “The political repression against the opposition gets more and more violent, and I would say also more and more blind. It targets all spheres of society, and actually targets freedom of expression, which is not tolerated under part of the authorities.”
[with inputs from agencies]
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