The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on June 14 sentenced a number of former leaders, activists and supporters of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), including prominent Cambodian-American lawyer Seng Theary, to between five and eight years in prison for “plotting and fomenting insecurity in society”.
Following the hearing, Choung Choungy, the lawyer for Theary and the former activists, said the court had sentenced her and four other people to six years in prison and ordered their immediate detention.
Theary, who received six-year prison term for conspiracy to plotting against the government, was arrested and sent to prison after the verdict was delivered.
Choungy said the court also sentenced former CNRP president Sam Rainsy, Eng Chhay Eang, Ou Chanrith, Tok Vanchan, Ho Vann, Men Sothavarin and other activists to eight years in prison each on the same charge. Three other activists – Heng Chan Rithy, Tum Bunthorn, and Kak Kumphea – who are already in prison – were given an extra six-year prison term. In addition, several other activists were given five-year terms but had their sentences suspended.
He added that as Theary’s lawyer, he intended to file a grievance with the Court of Appeal. “I will meet with my client in prison to discuss the appeal. I will argue the appeal as best I can, but ultimately the decision is made at the discretion of the court,” he said.The US embassy in Phnom Penh took to social media deploring the verdicts.
“We are deeply troubled by today’s unjust verdicts against Seng Theary and others. Freedom of expression and association, and tolerance of dissenting views, are vital components of democracy. We call on Cambodian authorities to release her and other human rights activists from unjust imprisonment,” it said.
Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group LICADHO, opined that the verdict against them would draw a lot of criticism.
“I understand that these verdicts and arrests will draw the criticism of the international community over respect for human rights and democracy. I believe the only means that politicians should employ when there is a political deadlock is a culture of dialogue in finding a solution,” he added.
Justice ministry spokesman Chin Malin said the municipal court’s decision was the direct implementation of Cambodian law and the court had a solid and clear legal basis to charge and sentence them for plotting to topple the government under the pretext of a return of the convict Sam Rainsy.
“This is the judicial procedure of Cambodia, which is a sovereign state. Any sides that refuse to accept the decision and support the accused can help them procure legal representation or provide solid evidence, testimony to judicially discharge the burden against them and they can file a grievance with the Appeal Court according to legal procedure,” he said.
Kin Phea, director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia’s International Relations Institute, said the decision was made at the discretion of the court.
“I think it is the right of the international community to express their opinions and concerns over this verdict. But Cambodia is a sovereign state, so the court action is an internal affair under Cambodian law,” he said.