Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Embassies’ complaints about Rainsy’s jail sentence rebuffed

Embassies’ complaints about Rainsy’s jail sentence rebuffed

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Former CNRP leader Sam Rainsy in 2015. Hong Menea

Embassies’ complaints about Rainsy’s jail sentence rebuffed

Government spokesperson Phay Siphan said the concerns raised by three foreign embassies and an official from the European Union’s European External Action Service (EEAS) concerning the sentences given to former opposition party leaders was “interference in Cambodia’s internal affairs”.

In a sentencing hearing held on March 1, a Phnom Penh municipal court judge sentenced former opposition leader Sam Rainsy in absentia to 25 years in prison for the crime of “Attack” as defined under Article 451 of the Criminal Code.

Article 451 states that the crime of attack “consists of the commission of one or more acts of violence liable to endanger the institutions of the Kingdom of Cambodia or violate the integrity of the national territory,” and that “it shall be punishable by imprisonment from fifteen to thirty years.”

Eight other former opposition members named as Rainsy’s accomplices to the crime were each handed prison sentences between 20-22 years in duration, though none of them are presently in Cambodia.

The judge then declared that all of the defendants had been deprived of their citizenship rights definitively, disenfranchised for purposes of voting or standing for office in elections and disqualified from working in the government’s civil service framework as officials.

After the judge pronounced the verdict, the embassies of the US, UK and Australia along with an EU official all issued statements expressing their concerns over the verdict.

“We are concerned by the verdicts and lengthy sentences of opposition members held in absentia. The right to a fair trial is a fundamental freedom guaranteed in the Cambodian constitution. We urge authorities to respect the rule of law and to ensure that fundamental freedoms are respected,” the UK embassy’s statement said.

During a bilateral defence cooperation discussion with Minister of Defence Tea Banh on March 2, Australian ambassador to Cambodia Pablo Kang also raised some concerns and said the trial of the opposition members and activists included Australian nationals.

“We urge the Cambodian Government to apply transparency and due process in all trials, and to take steps to rebuild relations with opposition members and with civil society,” the Australian embassy stated.

The US ambassador Patrick Murphy said he was troubled by sentences targeting political opposition leaders, particularly given – what he referred to – as a lack of due process. He urged authorities to reopen Cambodia’s political space and allow all voices to be heard and to participate.

Likewise, the EEAS’s spokespersons said the verdict was pronounced after swift trials conducted in absentia. They further stated that the accused were not allowed to return to the country and defend their actions in court, which is a violation of their due process rights according to the EU.

In 2019, Sam Rainsy had publicly planned his return to Cambodia on November 9 claiming that when he returned it would be to facilitate the arrest of Prime Minster Hun Sen. That same year he publicly urged the armed forces to disobey their orders and overthrow their government.

The government in question – still in power today – regarded this as an attempt to foment a military coup and it led to Rainsy’s 25-year-sentence.

The government spokesperson Phay Siphan said Cambodia had sovereign jurisdiction over its own territory and courts. He condemned all attempts to interfere with its judicial processes by outside parties.

“The embassies are just the representatives for the interests of their own particular nations in Cambodia. They are not permitted to provide support to groups of insurgent rebels. This is absolutely unacceptable and illegal interference in Cambodia’s internal affairs. A coup to depose our elected prime minister is just not acceptable,” Siphan said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • Cambodia purchases 4 million Molnupiravir tablets

    Cambodia has arranged for the purchase of four million US-made Molnupiravir pills – enough to treat 100,000 Covid-19 patients – even though the current rate of daily infections in Cambodia remains low. The medicine will be distributed to state hospitals, pharmacies and private clinics, according to the Samdech

  • Rise in planned flights lifts travel hopes

    Six airlines have applied to resume flights in December, while two others have put in for additional flights and routes, according to State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) head Mao Havannall on November 29. These account for 43 new weekly domestic and international flights in December, up 16

  • Is Cambodia’s travel sector in for another cheerless holiday season?

    The travel and tourism sector was heaving back to life as borders started to reopen, promising a festive vibe for the holidays and New Year. But Omicron and other Covid-related issues are threatening to close the year on a bleak note ‘Seems [like] Covid-19 won’

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration

  • Cambodia planning new border checkpoint at Thma Da

    Cambodia is looking into the possibility of opening a new Thma Da Border Checkpoint with Thailand to boost trade and tourism. The Ministry of Public Works and Transport said on December 4 that Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol led a technical working group