Cambodian court convicts 36 opposition figures of conspiracy

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A court in Cambodia on Thursday convicted 36 activists and former opposition lawmakers of conspiracy to commit treason, a local human rights group said.

The 36, including former opposition leader Sam Rainsy and several leaders of his disbanded Cambodia National Rescue Party, were accused of trying to help exiled former lawmakers, including deputy party leader Mu Sochua, return home in January 2021 in defiance of a government ban.

The human rights group Licadho said on its website that the sentences handed down by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ranged from five to seven years in prison, with three defendants receiving suspended sentences.

Thirty-three of the defendants were tried in absentia and arrest warrants were issued for those convicted, it said. One defendant was acquitted.

The Cambodia National Rescue Party, the sole credible opposition party, had been expected to present a strong challenge to Hun Sen’s governing Cambodian People’s Party in the 2018 general election. But Hun Sen launched a sweeping crackdown on his opponents before the polls, and the high court disbanded the opposition party, removing its lawmakers from Parliament. Hun Sen’s party subsequently won every seat in the National Assembly.

Sam Rainsy has long been the harshest critic and most popular opponent of Hun Sen, who has held power for 37 years. He and Hun Sen have been bitter enemies for decades, and frequently exchange insults and attacks on social media. Sam Rainsy has been convicted of various offenses in a series of trials he asserts are politically motivated.

Licadho said Thursday’s ruling was “the fourth verdict in five mass trials that have been initiated against a total of 158 leaders and supporters of the former CNRP since November 2020,” and noted that many former activists have been defendants in multiple trials.

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