Cambodian Opposition Party Members Sentenced for Insurrection

By Associated Press 22 July 2015

PHNOM PENH — Eleven members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party were sentenced Tuesday to long prison terms after a court convicted them of insurrection over a protest last year that turned violent.

The July 15, 2014, protest in Phnom Penh came as opposition lawmakers were boycotting parliament to demand political reforms, claiming the previous year’s election had been rigged by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party. An agreement reached the next month saw the opposition members agree to take their parliamentary seats.

The government deployed civilian security auxiliaries armed with batons and homemade weapons to keep the protesters out of the capital’s Freedom Park. Violent clashes followed, which each side claims the other initiated.

Leading opposition spokesman Meach Sovannara and two other defendants were sentenced to 20 years in prison for leading the protest. Eight others received seven-year sentences for taking part. All had pleaded innocent.

Hun Sen has been in power for almost three decades, and while Cambodia is formally democratic, his government is authoritarian and known for intimidating opponents. The country’s courts are widely seen as doing the government’s political bidding.

“During the trial, which has had intermittent hearings since December 2014, not one plaintiff identified any of the 11 defendants as having committed any act of violence during the event,” LICADHO, a respected local human rights group, said in a statement issued after the sentencing.

It said that only one of the nine defense lawyers was present at Tuesday’s hearing, with the others reported to have boycotted the event because the court had accelerated the trial process despite poor health on the part of some of the defendants.

“When judges unexpectedly called for closing arguments, the defendants requested a delay until their lawyers could attend. The judges denied the request and deliberated for just 15 minutes before returning with the verdicts and sentences. As they began to deliberate, police and military police entered the courtroom and the road outside the courtroom was simultaneously blocked,” said the group’s statement.

It quoted LICADHO director Naly Pilorge saying these actions made it clear “that this was a show trial with a predetermined ending,” apparently to intimidate the opposition party.

The government and the opposition disagree over a bill that would greatly restrict the activities of non-governmental organizations, a large and active sector in Cambodia. Lawmakers from the Cambodia National Rescue Party boycotted the vote on the bill in the lower house, where it passed with government support. It must still be approved by the Senate, another government-dominated body.