Cambodian court jails American lawyer, dozens of others for treason

Theary Seng, a Cambodian-American lawyer and human rights activist, was among more than 100 people affiliated with the now defunct Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) accused of treason and incitement.

The Phnom Penh court sentenced Theary Seng to six years in prison and ordered her arrest, her lawyer told reporters.

“This is not acceptable and I will meet her in prison to discuss the appeal,” attorney Chuong Choungy said outside the courtroom, noting that she was among about 60 co-defendants who were sentenced to between five and eight. years in prison.

Theary Seng arrived at the courthouse dressed as the Statue of Liberty with a symbolic chain around her and saying she hoped to be found guilty.

After the verdict, she was packed into a police van after the verdict, sparking fights between police officers and their supporters.

Theary Seng is outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Courthouse on Tuesday.

The verdicts are likely to renew international concern over Cambodia’s veteran prime minister, Hun Sen, and what his critics say has been the elimination, over many years, of opposition to his government. Hun Sen denies chasing his opponents.

US embassy spokesman Chad Roedemeier said the US is “deeply concerned about today’s unfair verdicts”.

“The United States has consistently called on Cambodian authorities to stop politically motivated trials, including against US citizen Seng Theary and other human rights defenders, members of the political opposition, journalists, and labor and environmental activists,” Roedemeier told Reuters.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen gestures during a press conference at the Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, September 17, 2021.

‘Autocratic’

The court sentenced veteran opposition leader Sam Rainsy, a former finance minister and CNRP leader who lives in exile in France, to eight years in prison in absentia.

Before his arrest, Theary Seng spoke of the verdict he expected, saying it would apply to all Cambodians who “love justice, who love freedom, who are genuine democrats”.

“It follows the logic of this autocratic regime finding me guilty,” she told reporters.

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Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia for 37 years. He rose to prominence in the 1980s following the defeat of the Khmer Rouge “killing camps” regime, and consolidated his power in the 1990s.

The CNRP was banned and its leader Kem Sokha arrested ahead of the 2018 general election, allowing Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party to win all parliamentary seats and sparking international outrage.

The charges against Kem Sokha stem from accusations that he conspired with the US to overthrow Senator Hun. Kem Sokha and the US reject the charges.

Human Rights Watch urged foreign governments, the United Nations and aid donors to pressure Cambodia to overturn the convictions and end a broad attack on the country’s remaining civic and democratic space.

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