Eleven members of the government-branded terrorist group Khmer National Liberation Front were handed five- to nine-year jail sentences on Wednesday morning over 2014 plotting charges, even after most renounced their ties to the group in court.
The men were arrested in October 2014 over plans for what they said would be a peaceful demonstration in front of the Vietnamese Embassy, but authorities claimed the protest was intended to sow violence and disorder.
Presiding Judge San Sophat also issued a warrant for the arrest of Sam Serey, the group’s leader, who recently formed a “government in exile” from his home in Denmark.
“The court decides to sentence Sam Serey to nine years in prison and charges him with instigation,” Judge Sophat told the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
Seven of the men were slapped with six-year sentences and three more will serve five years for participating in plotting, the judge said.
The KNLF advocates freeing “the Cambodian people from the Vietnamese neo-colony and dictatorship regime under Hun Sen,” according to its website.
In the post-verdict commotion on Wednesday, several of the defendants reiterated testimony they gave in an October hearing in which they claimed to have been duped by Mr. Serey into joining the KNLF, blaming him and opposition leader Sam Rainsy for their plight. Mr. Rainsy has denied any connection to the group.
At the October hearing, several went out of their way to praise Prime Minister Hun Sen and said they had joined the CPP. They credited Suth Dina, Cambodia’s former ambassador to South Korea, who was sentenced on Thursday to five years in prison in a large-scale embezzlement case, for helping them see the error in their ways.
“He advised me about political matters and helped me understand the policies” of Mr. Hun Sen, defendant Chhun Chhat said at the time. “After that…I wrote a letter requesting to join and serve the Cambodian People’s Party.”