In a mass trial in Cambodia, a US lawyer and about 60 opposition figures have been jailed for allegedly conspiring to commit treason.
The trial has been condemned by the United States and rights groups as politically motivated.
More than 100 people affiliated with the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) were charged with treason and incitement, including Cambodian-American lawyer Theary Seng.
Her lawyer told reporters that the Phnom Penh court sentenced Theary Seng to six years in jail and ordered her arrest.
Chuong Choungy, her lawyer, said outside the court that she would meet with her in prison to discuss appealing the case. She was among some 60 co-defendants sentenced to between five and eight years in prison.
Theary Seng had entered court dressed as the Statue of Liberty with a symbolic chain around her, saying she expected a guilty verdict.
Several scuffles broke out between police officers and her supporters after she was put in a police vehicle following the verdict.
Hun Sen denies persecuting anyone
These verdicts are likely to renew international concern about Cambodia’s veteran prime minister, Hun Sen, and the elimination of opposition to his rule, according to his critics. However, Hun Sen denies persecuting any of his opponents.
In a statement, United States embassy spokesperson Chad Roedemeier said that the US was “deeply troubled” by the unjust verdicts.
The United States has consistently urged Cambodia to end politically motivated trials, including those against US citizen Seng Theary and other human rights defenders, members of the political opposition, journalists, and labor activists, Roedemeier told Reuters.
In absentia, the court sentenced opposition leader Sam Rainsy, a former finance minister, and leader of the CNRP, to eight years in prison.
Before being arrested, Theary Seng spoke of the verdict she expected, saying it would apply to all Cambodians who “love justice, who love freedom, who are genuine democratic citizens.”
To find me guilty is part of this regime’s logic,” she told Reuters.
Hun Sen has ruled Cambodia for 37 years
Cambodia has been ruled by Hun Sen for 37 years. During the 1980s, following the defeat of the Khmer Rouge “killing fields” regime, he rose to prominence and cemented his hold on power.
The CNRP’s leader, Kem Sokha, was arrested before a 2018 general election, which allowed Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party to win every parliamentary seat, provoking international outrage.
As a result of the charges against Kem Sokha, he is accused of conspiring with the United States to overthrow Hun Sen. Both Kem Sokha and the United States deny these allegations.
Human Rights Watch has urged foreign governments, the United Nations, and aid donors to put pressure on Cambodia to overturn the convictions and end attacks on the country’s remaining civic and democratic space.
About Lawyer Theary Seng
Theary Seng is a Cambodian-American human-rights activist and lawyer, the former executive director of the Centre for Social Development, and president of the Center for Cambodian Civic Education (CIVICUS Cambodia).
Born Chan Theary Seng, she moved to the United States in 1979 with her younger brother after the Khmer Rouge was defeated by the Vietnamese army. At the age of seven, Theary had lost both her parents and many relatives to the regime.
After 1995, she volunteered with a number of labor and human rights associations. She earned her Juris Doctor degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 2000, and she has been admitted to the New York State Bar Association and American Bar Association.