CNRP Says Convictions Violate Political Deal

The conviction on Tuesday of 11 opposition activists on charges of insurrection—labeled “absurd” and a “travesty” by rights groups—contradicts the political agreement that ended a yearlong political deadlock last July, the CNRP said in a statement Wednesday.

CNRP President Sam Rainsy left the country Tuesday evening, while his deputy Kem Sokha and party spokesman Yem Ponhearith were unavailable for comment Wednesday.

The party’s statement was the only official response to the result of a trial that saw the 11 activists sentenced to between seven and 20 years in prison for their role in a protest that turned violent near Freedom Park on July 15 last year.

“[The convictions] provoke political tension once again, contradicting the spirit of the July 22, 2014, political agreement,” said the statement from the CNRP, which ended its parliamentary boycott last year partly in exchange for a freer political environment.

“The CNRP hopes that the culture of dialogue will continue to solve all the problems of the nation and Cambodian people, especially by ending the political tension as well as cooperating with each other to release the 11 CNRP activists.”

A year ago Wednesday, Mr. Rainsy and Prime Minister Hun Sen struck an agreement that ended months of political tension following the disputed July 2013 national election, and also saw the release of seven CNRP lawmakers who were imprisoned for their alleged roles in the protest violence.

The party leaders have since agreed to stop verbally attacking each other, and instead discuss issues of national importance through a new “culture of dialogue” between the longtime political rivals.

The absence of Mr. Rainsy in the wake of Tuesday’s trial, however, has left the CNRP with few options in working with the ruling party, as the opposition leader has exclusive access to the prime minister, said Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc.

Mr. Rainsy “should stay in the country and work with the party to solve the problem,” Mr. Saray said Wednesday.

“It is an obstruction to the culture of dialogue—they only talk among themselves. Kem Sokha cannot talk to Hun Sen the same as Sam Rainsy, and that is a problem.”

Almost as soon as Tuesday’s verdict was handed down—in an expedited trial that was concluded in the absence of all but one defense lawyer —leading human rights groups began releasing statements slamming the decision as political manipulation by the CPP.

“Once again, Cambodia’s judiciary has demonstrated that it serves as one of Hun Sen’s preferred tools of oppression,” Naly Pilorge, director of local rights group Licadho, said in a statement.

Karim Lahidji, president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), called for “international pressure” to “stop Hun Sen from eliminating political opposition and eradicating civil society.”

“The absurd conviction of the 11 CNRP members and supporters shows that Cambodia remains in the grip of an authoritarian government,” he said in a statement.

Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, called the convictions a “travesty.”

“Two decades of international aid and training for the courts, and repeated promises of reform from the government, have resulted in no changes in how the judiciary acts in political cases,” Mr. Adams said in the statement.

“This travesty of a trial seems drawn from a 1980s playbook when Cambodian leader Hun Sen didn’t even pretend to respect basic rights.”

Responding to the allegations of political suppression at the hands of the government, and the opposition’s claim that the ruling party has broken the July 22 agreement, CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the party had no control over the judiciary.

“Please tell the [CNRP] not to involve politics with law,” Mr. Eysan said.

“The tension began when Sam Rainsy bought the map from the market in France,” Mr. Eysan added, referring to a map that the opposition bought from the National Geographic Institute in Paris last month as part of its campaign to expose alleged border incursions by Vietnam.

“Any effect to the culture of dialogue is based on the CNRP’s stance,” he said.

One opposition lawmaker available for comment Wednesday was Ke Wandara. At the party’s headquarters in Meanchey district, he said the culture of dialogue had not been violated and could still help see the 11 released.

Mr. Wandara—who stressed that his views were his own—said he believed the opposition’s recent focus on the government’s border work with Vietnam had influenced the court’s ruling Tuesday.

“Sometimes, the situation of the country is good or bad based on the political climate. So I believe that it may have a connection between the border issue as well,” he said.

Since the July 2013 election, in which the CNRP made major gains on the CPP in parliament—winning 55 of 123 seats—opposition activists have been arrested and released from prison as the relationship between the two main political parties has ebbed and flowed.

Choung Choungy, a lawyer for the convicted insurrectionists who boycotted the trial Tuesday, said the announcement Monday that the court would expedite the trial left him with no doubt that guilty verdicts would follow.

“I knew they would detain Mr. Meach [Sovannara] and others,” he said Wednesday of the head of the CNRP’s information department, who was among three activists given 20 years for leading an insurrection.

“The trial process was completely incorrect. The judges flagrantly abused the law. In a criminal case, when defense lawyers cannot join the hearing, judges cannot hold the trial.”

Lim Makaron, the presiding judge who delivered the verdict, declined to comment on the trial Wednesday, as did municipal court director Taing Sunlay.

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