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Baseless sentences against Cambodian opposition and activists should raise alarm within ASEAN

16/06/2022

Baseless sentences against Cambodian opposition and activists should raise alarm within ASEAN

JAKARTA – Parliamentarians from Southeast Asia said the most recent bout of political convictions imposed by the authorities in Cambodia on dozens of members and supporters of the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) should raise alarm within ASEAN and , called for all the charges against them to be dropped and for the immediate and unconditional release of those currently detained.

On 14 June 2022, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted more than 50 former members and supporters of the CNRP, which was arbitrarily dissolved in 2017, on bogus charges of treason. A prominent Cambodian-American lawyer, Theary Seng, was sentenced to six years in prison and immediately arrested after the trial. Others received sentences ranging from five to eight years imprisonment. Of those convicted, 27 are in exile and were tried in absentia. One of them is Mu Sochua, former CNRP Vice-President and Board Member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR). 

“This is just another episode of a years-long relentless assault by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s regime against political opponents and democracy itself. Using a judiciary that lost any semblance of independence a long time ago, Hun Sen and his government are de facto turning Cambodia into a one-party state in which nobody is safe except those who obediently accept his increasingly dictatorial rule,” said Charles Santiago, Member of Parliament in Malaysia and APHR Chairman.

The verdict is part of a series of mass trials that started in November 2020 targeting 138 CNRP members for their support to the attempted return to Cambodia of the exiled leader of the party, Sam Rainsy, in 2019. The government charged them, among other charges, with conspiracy to commit treason alleging that they were planning to overthrow the government through a revolution. The trials have been far from fair, as shows the fact that former CNRP members who defected to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) have their sentences suspended or charges against them dropped. 

The sentences come after the recent Commune and Sangkat Elections, held on 5 June 2022, in an environment of harassment and intimidation against the opposition. Those were the conditions that set the stage for the landslide victory of Hun Sen and his CPP that resulted in the polls.

“Both ASEAN and the international community at large should do all they can to support democracy in Cambodia and stop Hun Sen from weaponizing the law and the state apparatus for his own interests. The longer Hun Sen is allowed to continue abusing his powers with impunity, the more difficult it will be to restore democracy in the country. Letting a dictator run free has not only consequences on the people of Cambodia but the region as a whole. His reckless and unilateral handling of the Myanmar crisis as the current Chair of ASEAN is just one example of it,” said Santiago.

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ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) was founded in June 2013 with the objective of promoting democracy and human rights across Southeast Asia. Our founding members include many of the region's most progressive Members of Parliament (MPs), with a proven track record of human rights advocacy work.

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