The United Nations and the US Government has described a 27- year prison sentence of Cambodia’s top opposition leader as a “miscarriage of justice. Cambodia’s opposition leader Kem Sokha was sentenced to 27 years in prison for treason on Friday.
Kem Sokha was arrested in 2017 in a midnight raid involving hundreds of security officers, accused of plotting a “secret plan” in collaboration with foreign groups to destabilize the administration of veteran Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The 69-year-old co-founder of the now-defunct Cambodia National Rescue Party has long been a vocal critic of Hun Sen, whom detractors accuse of stifling democratic freedoms and using the judiciary to silence criticism.
Kem Sokha has repeatedly rejected the charges levelled against him, which rights groups claim are intended to keep him out of politics ahead of the July elections.
Immediately following the decision in Phnom Penh, he was placed under house arrest and barred from seeing foreigners or anybody who is not a family member without the court’s consent.
Miscarriage of justice
W. Patrick Murphy, the US ambassador in court, called the trial and sentence a “miscarriage of justice.” “The conviction of respected political leader Kem Sokha has severely saddened the United States,” he told reporters.
During a visit to Phnom Penh last August, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Kem Sokha and highlighted worries about the kingdom’s ailing democracy in talks with Hun Sen.
According to Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch, the verdict proves that “authoritarians have won” in Cambodia.
“This is Cambodian democracy at its lowest point,” he told Reuters.
According to an AFP reporter, when Kem Sokha was carried out from the court, he grinned and greeted diplomats in attendance.
“I cannot believe this verdict,” Chea Samuon, a fan, said outside the court, which was heavily guarded. “It is extremely unjust to both him and the people. He is not guilty; this is the result of political pressure.” Kem Sokha has one month to file an appeal against his conviction and jail term. The court also revoked his voting rights and prevented him from competing for political office.
Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved opposition
Two months after Kem Sokha’s imprisonment in 2017, Cambodia’s Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP, which had previously been seen as the only credible opposition to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).
This prepared the stage for the CPP and Hun Sen to win all 125 parliamentary seats in 2018, effectively becoming Cambodia a one-party state.
Many opposition politicians were convicted of treason last year, some in absentia, adding to the pressure on opponents ahead of the elections.
Hun Sen ordered the closure of one of the country’s few remaining local independent media sites last month after objecting to a news item about his son.
The prosecution of Kem Sohka highlighted the “frightening problem of state control of the court,” according to Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
“It’s not just about dismantling Kem Sokha’s political party; it’s also about crushing any possibility of a true general election in July.”
Amnesty International stated use of the judiciary to hound opponents of Hun Sen “knows no limits”.
“The Cambodian court system has once again demonstrated its shocking lack of independence,” said Ming Yu Huh, deputy regional director of Amnesty International.
Sam Rainsy, an exiled opposition politician who has resided in France since 2015 to avoid incarceration on a number of politically driven convictions, said the trial was based on “made charges.”