The Ministry of Justice issued a statement to explain the legal and factual bases for Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s decision to sentence 42 defendants, including Cambodian-American lawyer Seng Chan Theary, to between five and eight years in prison for plotting and incitement.

The statement comes following international criticism in the aftermath of the arrest and jailing of Seng Chan Theary, also known as Seng Theary, who was sentenced to six years in prison on June 14, along with former opposition figures, such as Sam Rainsy who was hit with eight years.

In a two-page statement, the ministry underscored that the cases stemmed from what it termed an “attempted coup” led by former opposition party leader Rainsy, who it said had proclaimed that he would return to Cambodia on November 9, 2019 to “arrest” Prime Minister Hun Sen, who had been democratically elected a year earlier.

The statement said Rainsy had incited and appealed to the armed forces and civil servants as well as the general public to “rise up” against the government, and raised funds to “illegally provide” to armed forces to commit to executing the plan.

“There are clear and strong pieces of evidence for the aforementioned actions, some of which could easily be used to convict Sam Rainsy and his group of using Facebook and other social media platforms as a means to commit incitement and to serve their nefarious plan,” it said, adding that the court has compiled the results of the investigation and associated proceedings over the past three years.

It continued with a rhetorical question: “From a legal perspective, is there any country in the world that would not regard an ‘attempted coup’ or a ‘plan to violently topple the government’ as illegal, and see it instead as an exercise of freedom?”

The ministry told any involved party who may believe any of the court's decisions to be erroneous to – within the confines of the law and legal procedures – hire a team of lawyers, gather and prepare sufficient supporting evidence demonstrating why a verdict should be overturned, and file an appeal to a higher court for review.